1 Nov 2021

Covid-19 making lives of those insecure and inadequate housing more vulnerable

9:59 am on 1 November 2021

Covid-19 has taken hold among some of society's most marginalised groups, including those living in insecure or inadequate housing.

A state house in Northcote

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

The Delta is highly infectious, so when one person in a household has tested positive, more often than not, everyone else has ended up getting it.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of those high rates of onward transmission on whānau living in overcrowded conditions.

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

More than 40 household groups - some of them spread across more than one home - had 10 or more people.

The largest household group was 26.

Auckland City missioner Helen Robinson said the high cost of housing is forcing whānau into difficult situations.

"There are perhaps eight or nine people living in a house designed for four or five, or 11 or 12 people living in a house designed for five or six," she said.

Woman stands in front of shelves with boxes and paper bags filled with food.

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

"This is an indication of just the cost of housing, the disproportionate cost of housing to income."

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

Surveillance testing was undertaken at about 50 facilities in Auckland, but the Ministry of Health can't say exactly how many cases have been detected.

Lifewise community services manager Peter Shimwell said that was when the reality of the outbreak started to hit home for many of the vulnerable people and families they work with.

"They're concerned around getting sick, but they're also concerned around other health problems that they've got. We've certainly seen a lot more people being keen to - number one - get tested and - number two - get their vaccination done."

During the first lockdown last year, a massive effort was made to get the homeless into safe accommodation.

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

However, he said putting someone into a motel wasn't a long-term solution.

"The message hasn't changed. We need good quality, affordable, long term accommodation for people that have been at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

"That's not going to change, even after Covid is is long gone. We've still got a lot of work to do to ensure that we've got high quality, supported accommodation for that very vulnerable group."

Brent* was homeless during first lockdown last year.

He'd been living on the streets for a couple of years, after his relationship broke down.

"I was struggling, because I had come off drug addictions and all that sort of stuff. I just found it really hard because I didn't think there were any people out there who were willing to help me."

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

He's working and learning new skills, and he's in stable housing while he waits for a permanent place to call home.

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

"Because we're so close to everyone, I guess I was a little bit worried about catching it, even though I've been double vaxxed.

"So I'm still cautious, I always wear a mask and I'm always wary around other people."

Brent said - especially at times like this - there needs to be more help for people who need housing.

Cheaper rent, and building more affordable housing, would make a big difference.

"I think that's the biggest thing for people, trying to survive, paying rent and all that sort of stuff, I think that's just the biggest thing.

Wayne Knox - the general manager of Māori housing organisation Te Matapihi - said innovative solutions are needed, fast.

"Home ownership is still the ideal for many whānau, but it's more and more becoming out of their grasp.

"What we need to focus on - particularly for those who are experiencing housing stress or financial stress, or vulnerability and instability in their home environment - housing permanency is what we need to focus on."

The latest official figures, from September, show there are almost 8400 people on the social housing waitlist in Auckland.

There are about 1800 households receiving emergency housing grants.

* Not his real name

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