Saturday, December 4

Covid-19 makes the lives of insecure and inadequate people more vulnerable

Covid-19 has taken hold of some of the most marginalized groups in society, including those living in unsafe or inadequate housing.

A state house in Northcote

Covid-19 is making the lives of those in poor housing even more precarious.
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Delta is highly infectious, so when one person in a household has tested positive, most of the time, everyone else ends up having the test.

Concerns have been expressed about the impact of these high rates of progressive transmission on whānau living in overcrowded conditions.

Figures from the Ministry of Health for the first two months of the outbreak show that one in five households with cases had eight or more people.

More than 40 groups of households, some of them distributed in more than one household, had 10 or more people.

The largest group of households was 26.

Auckland City Missionary Helen Robinson said the high cost of housing is leading the Whānau into difficult situations.

“Maybe there are eight or nine people who live in a house designed for four or five, or 11 or 12 people who live in a house designed for five or six,” he said.

The woman stands in front of the shelves with boxes and paper bags full of food.

Auckland City Missionary Helen Robinson.
Photo: RNZ Insight / Sarah Robson

“This is an indication of the cost of housing, the disproportionate cost of housing to income.”

During this outbreak, cases have also emerged in emergency and transitional housing facilities.

Surveillance tests were conducted at some 50 facilities in Auckland, but the Health Ministry cannot say exactly how many cases have been detected.

Lifewise Community Services Manager Peter Shimwell said that’s when the reality of the outbreak began to affect many of the vulnerable people and families they work with.

“They are concerned about getting sick, but they are also concerned about other health problems that they have. Certainly, we have seen many more people wanting to, number one, get tested and number two, get tested. Vaccination done.”

During the first shutdown of last year, a massive effort was made to move the homeless to safe accommodation.

Shimwell said many of those people are still housed, but others are not.

However, he said that putting someone in a motel was not a long-term solution.

“The message has not changed. We need good quality, affordable, long-term housing for people who have been at the acute end of the housing crisis.

“That is not going to change, even after Covid is long gone. We still have a lot of work to do to make sure we have high-quality supported hosting for that very vulnerable group.”

Brent * was homeless during the first lockdown last year.

He had been living on the streets for a couple of years, after their relationship broke up.

“I was struggling, because I had come out of drug addictions and all that kind of thing. I just found it very difficult because I didn’t think there were people who were willing to help me.”

Since then, Brent has found help and things are starting to go well.

You are working and learning new skills, and you are in stable housing while you wait for a permanent place to call home.

But like many others, Brent hasn’t found it easy during the latest outbreak.

“Since we’re so close to everyone, I guess I was a bit worried about catching him, even though I was doubly aroused.

“So I’m still cautious, I always wear a mask and I’m always suspicious of other people.”

Brent said that, especially in times like this, there needs to be more help for people in need of housing.

Cheaper rent and more affordable home construction would make a big difference.

“I think that’s the most important thing for people, trying to survive, paying the rent and all that kind of thing, I think that’s the most important thing.

Wayne Knox, the general manager of the Maori housing organization Te Matapihi, said innovative solutions are needed, quickly.

“Home ownership continues to be ideal for many whānau, but it is increasingly out of reach.

“What we need to focus on, particularly for those who are experiencing stress in the home or financial stress, or vulnerability and instability in their family environment, the permanence of the home is what we should focus on.”

The latest official figures, from September, show that there are almost 8,400 people on the waiting list for social housing in Auckland.

There are about 1800 households that receive emergency housing subsidies.

* Not his real name

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