Some are further cutting costs by spending nights in their vehicles parked on the side of rural roads or in public car parks, rather than going to campervan parks or camping grounds.
Cheng Goh, of Settlement Support North Shore, says high rents have resulted in many people struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Some had become really desperate.
Unlike locals, who could move in with family and friends, newly arrived immigrants faced limited options on who they could turn to, she said.
“It’s quite sad to see people who come here to set up a new life, only to have their lives turned upside down,” said Ms Goh.
“It’s just unfortunate that when you come at the wrong time, everything seems to work against you.”
She said many failed to do enough planning for their New Zealand move and under-budgeted. The recession – which cost many migrants their jobs – and high rents had aggravated the situation.
A migrant worker from Russia said he spent his last $1500 in February on a van which had now become his home.
“Before I bought the van, I had nowhere to go and I had been sleeping on the streets since I lost my job last year, but I knew winter was coming and this is the cheapest way to make sure I have shelter,” he said.
The former engineer, who has a work permit that runs until September next year, says he knows which office and commercial buildings have shower facilities that he can use early in the mornings before workers arrive.
A 33-year-old German architect, who was made redundant a month after she gained her New Zealand residency last year, said she had been living in a $1200 van with her partner, also unemployed, since Christmas.
“I have to think positive. I came here with dreams to own my own home, and the van is my first home,” she said. “It is temporary and I can it take with me anywhere.”
An unemployed woman from the Philippines who has two children is sharing a three-bedroom rental house with two other families.
She did not want to be identified because the landlord did not know that 11 people were living at his North Shore property.
“It is working out for all of us because it is stretching our savings a little further,” said the former secretary, who has permanent residence.
Immigrants, especially from Asia, are used to n crowded homes, says Agnes Granada of Migrant Action Trust.