Every day I see the effect that experiencing homelessness can have on a person and, over the last few weeks, I've been fielding questions from many about what happens to people who are homeless in a crisis like Covid-19.
So when we were all asked to "stay at home" during the Covid-19 lockdown, my first thoughts were given to our street whānau. In the absence of a "home", where would they go?
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In normal circumstances, we send our outreach team to assess the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Team members spend time with each person and get to know how they are on that particular day. They make sure each person has the food and other essential supplies they need while checking on their mental and physical health. For those who want to move into housing, we support them on that complex journey – every single step of the way. And every day of the year, we provide nutritious, hot meals in our community dining room – creating a sense of comradery.
But these are not normal circumstances.
The way we support the city's street whānau has drastically changed to keep people safe during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Now, our outreach teams still spend their days out on the street, but their visits with each person are brief – limited to 15 minutes - and at a safe social distance of 2 metres.
Instead of hot cooked meals in a communal setting, which increased the risk of spreading Covid-19, we are now, in partnership with the Auckland Council, providing daily takeaway food bags. Each bag contains enough nutritious and filling food to last a day.
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Our standard processes for moving someone from living on the street to being housed have been fast-tracked. To help reduce the risk of street whānau contracting or spreading Covid-19, we have been rapidly moving people into temporary accommodation. Our housing partners have stepped up and provided us with access to empty motels and apartments that would ordinarily be full of tourists.
However this comes with its own challenges. Our usual procedure for helping a person into accommodation comes with wraparound support to help address any issues they might have. Those issues might be a result of trauma, addiction or many other effects of living on the edge of society.
But right now, we don't have enough staff to fully support people as they move into a temporary home. That's challenging – and we are fast working to find new staff – but we know that it's incredibly important to have as many people in separate accommodation right now.
After the pandemic, some of those people in temporary accommodation will want to continue living inside an apartment or motel, and we will work towards supporting them. Others will want to return to their "home" on the street, and we will continue to support them too.
And what can you, as a fellow New Zealander do during the pandemic? There are two things you can do to support people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty. The first is be kind. The second is stay at home. If you do what you need to do, and we do what we need to do, there is hope that Covid-19 will be under control quickly and the Mission can resume normal operations under normal circumstances.
This pandemic will end, and when it does we will still be here with you, the people of Auckland helping those in desperate need, as we move into our centenary year.
• Chris Farrelly is Missioner and chief executive of the Auckland City Mission.