16 Apr 2020

Migrant workers hit hard: 'It's almost too big to comprehend'

6:22 pm on 16 April 2020

More than 4000 Queenstown Lakes residents and migrant workers have registered for food vouchers in the wake of Covid-19.

Queenstown in New Zealand, South Island

Queenstown. Photo: 123RF

The Emergency Operations Centre led by the Queenstown Lakes District Council has already given out more than $380,000 in food vouchers since mid-March.

In total, 5000 requests have been made for welfare assistance as members of the community face significant hardship.

District Mayor Jim Boult said people were living in lockdown with no income while needing to pay rent, bills and buy food.

"It's almost too big to comprehend but at the council we are rolling our sleeves up and doing everything we can to support our community," he said.

Migrant workers has been hit particularly hard, Boult said.

"We rely on these people who often go unheralded. They are the baristas, chefs, shop assistants and cleaners that power our economic engine year in, year out. But more importantly they are a part of our community.

"It's distressing to hear that so many of them are currently under severe financial stress without the support of family and friends close by. They need our help now," he said.

People could register for support on the council's website before receiving a call from a volunteer, Boult said.

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult

District Mayor Jim Boult Photo: Supplied

Emergency Operations Centre duty controller Tony Avery said more than 60 volunteers were supporting the welfare team, making about 400 calls each day to those registered.

The process involved a lot of collaboration with social services in the area to connect people with the right mental health and social support, and provide urgent assistance to food parcels and vouchers, he said.

"Grocery vouchers are only for those with limited or no income during this difficult time so please think carefully about your ability to cope before contacting us," Avery said.

"Our registration process is designed to minimise the potential of people abusing the system with all requests thoroughly screened. The assistance we provide has to remain solely for people struggling to keep their head above water."

Across the entire region, Emergency Management Otago has responded to nearly 6000 requests since the lockdown began with the vast majority in the Queenstown Lakes District.

That's meant over 2300 food parcels or vouchers have been provided across the region.

Otago Civil Defence group controller Richard Saunders said people who contact civil defence were connected to welfare teams.

"Most people we are assisting are those needing help with emergency food or temporary accommodation. Others are seeking help to access pharmacies, and information on where to access financial support," Saunders said.

Much of that support was being delivered by foodbanks, community groups, social agencies and volunteers who Civil Defence was working closely with, he said.

"There are many fantastic people and organisations across Otago who have put their hands up to help. Many have had to quickly rethink ways to support people from a distance but they have been quick to adapt.

"It may seem like a small gesture to deliver someone's groceries or pick up their medication from the pharmacy but these acts are critical to the health and wellbeing of those in need and the contribution of individuals should not be underestimated."

The welfare teams have increased in size to meet the needs of those who need support and ensure information was reported back to the government, he said.

"The needs of our vulnerable people are going to continue for some time and we are ensuring our teams are resourced to be able to meet the needs in our communities."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

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