Homelessness and poor housing impact on people's health in many ways, says a local public health expert.
"Cold, damp and mouldy homes are associated with illnesses such as asthma and respiratory infections," says Dr Jim Miller, medical officer of health at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's Toi Te Ora Public Health Service.
"Cold indoor temperatures also increase the risk of worsening heart problems. [And] crowding in homes increases the risk of spreading infectious diseases, such as acute rheumatic fever."
Beyond physical illnesses, crowded, cold, damp, and unaffordable housing can also affect people's mental health, says Dr Miller.
"Secure housing that also enables connection with the local community helps to support people's good health and wellbeing."
He says the Bay has high rates of respiratory infections in children - particularly in winter - and Toi Te Ora has been working alongside district health boards and other agencies to help improve the quality of housing locally.
"[The service] has a programme of work to reduce childhood infections, which includes respiratory infections, and improving the quality of housing is key to that."
The New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine agrees that housing is a key determinant of health and says it is concerned many New Zealanders do not have access to adequate, safe, warm, dry and affordable houses.
The college policy statement says national research shows improved health outcomes can be achieved through measures such as retro-fitting insulation and providing improved heating.
The benefits include:
- Fewer triggers of respiratory illness (less wheeze for those with asthma);
- Fewer GP visits;
- Less time off work/school;
- A trend towards reduced hospital admissions for respiratory and coronary conditions.
The college says an economic evaluation of the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart Programme (which provides subsidies for retro-fitting insulation and heating for homes built before 2000) demonstrated a benefit-cost ratio of 3.9, which means that the benefits are 3.9 times higher than the costs. Achieving a comfortable living temperature of at least 18C is considered key to better health.