Saturday, December 4

Bubbles Within Bubbles: How Community Living Facilities Handle Closure

What if your bubble includes dozens more people? RNZ registered with a transitional housing facility and intentional community to find out how they are handling the lockdown.

An aerial photo of Kāwai Purapura shows the dozens of buildings built by the Centrepoint community and North Harbor Stadium in the upper left corner.

Approximately 70 people pass together locked in Kāwai Purapura, an intentional community on Auckland’s north shore.
Photo: Supply / seed category

Danielle Bergin knows that she must trust the instincts of her main social worker. When the first case of the latest community outbreak was announced on the afternoon of August 17, her social worker told her that the country would be at level 4 at midnight.

A family was due to move to Island Child, Bergin’s transitional housing facility in East Auckland, two days later. But instead, the team rushed them out before the lockdown began at 11:59 p.m. that night.

At Island Child, they receive comprehensive support to help them transition to permanent housing. Little did they know that they would end up in a bubble with roughly 40 other people, all families and homeless individuals, effectively cut off from the outside world for weeks.

Bergin lives there with his two daughters, which he says has been a blessing during the confinement, as he can monitor people’s movements and call them to see if any of them have broken the rules.

Samoan families have taken this blockade incredibly seriously, in large part because many of the cases come from the Assembly of God Church group of Samoa, he says.

It is the youth you have to keep a close eye on, like a young man who wandered away for a few hours to meet friends from five different homes in the nearby maunga.

“So, what they think is a really reasonable activity, nobody has talked about the steps … we, as homeless workers, have had to talk about the steps of how transmission occurs and how a person in a household can infect 700 “.

Danielle Bergin outside some of the Island Child Charitable Trust emergency housing.

Danielle Bergin says homeless workers have had to take on the role of lockdown educators.
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

A large component of the staff’s work since the lockdown began has been related to education, Bergin says.

He was surprised to find that only three of the 18 families staying at the site had the Covid tracking app. Everyone was taught how to use it, and it has since been added to the installation induction policy. They also established a new rule: Anyone who breaks the bubble must be tested.

While the facility is being treated as a large bubble, there are also sub-bubbles within it, Bergin says.

Families and individuals live in tiny houses or have their own bedroom at Island Child, but share common facilities such as kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms.

Cleaning intensified at the beginning of the shutdown, and people were told to only use the facilities closest to their rooms. Social workers living off-site in their own domestic bubbles still come to work in PPE, but agency workers and visitors are not allowed.

Clients wear masks when around others and practice social distancing, but still socialize a bit. They even had a community barbecue for a birthday party the other day, with families sitting on the terraces of their little houses to eat.

“You can still call across the yard and laugh,” says Bergin.

“It was very social and it really improved everyone’s mood here, and they talked about it for about five days.”

‘We all control each other’

About 30km away in Albany on the north coast, 70 people take refuge in Kāwai Purapura, an intentional community of like-minded people living on the former site of Centrepoint.

There are usually more people living there, but a large number left in the hours after the closure was announced to go stay with family, friends, and lovers.

General manager Paul Gregory says some decided to leave because they were “extremely concerned about the virus and very concerned about sharing facilities.”

There are a variety of accommodations in the intentional community, ranging from rooms to long rooms, cabins, and houses.  RNZ / Michelle Cooke

Many residents of Kāwai Purapura live in small huts and share common facilities.
Photo: RNZ / Michelle Cooke

In KP, as the residents call it, many facilities are shared, so they have created around five small bubbles instead of one large bubble. When someone wants to cook, they sanitize the area before use and then again at the end.

The bubbles are kept 2 meters apart, new cleaning teams have been formed, tables have been separated and many common areas have been closed.

The general manager of Kāwai Purapura, Paul Gregory, first visited him to attend a yoga class, soon became a volunteer and now runs the place.

Paul gregory
Photo: RNZ / Michelle Cooke

Visitors are not allowed, and even residents who left after the lockdown was announced and want to return have been told they can’t; the only people who left and returned were a couple who had their baby during the confinement and had to go to the hospital.

No one has reported being to a landmark, but there are spare separate rooms in case someone needs to isolate themselves, Gregory says.

The community remains connected through a Facebook page and there are daily updates from the administration. They still do yoga classes and sound baths (meditation in which attendees “bathe” in sound waves), but they are kept 2 meters apart and a group has started training soccer together.

As he usually does, people take care of each other, he says.

“We all control each other … we have a good group of our older, wiser long-term residents who take responsibility for doing that, especially for some of the younger ones here.

“They are fighting, there is no question about it, they are fighting, but they are also realistic that 20 acres of beautiful shrubbery is not a bad place to do this.”

Kāwai Purapura erected a sign warning the public to stay outside after people began exploring the grounds for exercise at the beginning of the confinement.

Kāwai Purapura erected a sign warning the public to stay outside after people began exploring the grounds for exercise at the beginning of the confinement.

The only problem has been that outsiders wanted to use the grounds for their daily walk, but a large sign warning them to stay out has kept them away.

Resident Debra Jamieson says that for many, the confinement has provided a slower pace and people enjoy doing things they normally don’t have time for.

Many have been gardening, much to Gregory’s delight.

“It’s like gardening Sunday every day,” he says. “It’s a shame I can’t get land here.”

Michelle Cooke is a digital journalist at RNZ

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