25 Aug 2020

Covid-19: Community groups supporting people without phones

8:53 pm on 25 August 2020

A number of kaumātua living alone in South Auckland who have no phone or internet access are reliant on a network of community groups and volunteers for support during the lockdown.

Happy asian senior man using the mobile phone at home

File image. Photo: 123rf

Ōtara Citizen's Advice Bureau manager Lin Kaiou said the service was a lifeline to poorer communities, who contacted the bureau for anything from filling out forms, or finding work, social housing or food.

Kaiou said they typically received a lot of calls from neighbours, family or friends on behalf of elderly people who did not have their own phones, and she was concerned about how they were faring during the lockdown.

"I think it would be a nice thing if every elderly person was supported to the effect that they had some sort of telephone communication access within their home that they live in because there are many elderly people living alone."

Organisations like Papakura marae employ 60 staff members to deliver food and sanitation packs to those in need during the lockdown, largely in the South Auckland area.

Volunteers prepare meals at Papakura Marae for those in need as unemployment rises.

Volunteers prepare meals at Papakura marae for those in need in May. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Marae manager Tony Kake said foodbank numbers had tripled to up to 90 food parcels a day since Covid-19 first hit in March.

He said they were discovering new families or elderly in need when they were out in the community.

"I just encourage neighbours to just keep an eye on each other and offer to do the lawns whilst still keeping the social distancing.

"Just check in with each... it's not hard to do."

Ōtahuhu Māori Wardens chairperson Thomas Henry has a team of 12 who doorknock the 191 local pensioner flats in the South Auckland suburb.

He said they had recently been delivering 1000 masks to elderly who could not physically get them or were too scared to go outside without them.

"Some of our elderly they don't want to leave their place because they're frightened that without a mask they might get arrested."

That's the sort of misinformation that Henry said the wardens often had to correct, as for many of the kaumātua living alone, the wardens are their only whānau, and they even rely on them for updates on Covid-19.

"A lot of our people... are not on the internet, so they're not up to date on what's going on [and] every time we pass through there they'll ask the wardens, 'what level are we on'," Henry said.

"I think the government needs to put more into our elderly people in regards to making sure they are safe, and making sure someone is watching them because in the past, I know from these unit on this complex, is that we've had people pass away and because they've been by themselves, they haven't been found [until] three days later."

Henry encouraged anyone who had spare time to offer their time as a Māori warden.

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