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Source: Salvation Army

Communities are crying out for serious efforts to deal with mental health support, secure housing and adequate incomes, The Salvation Army’s latest report has found.

The State of our Communities Report, released today, shows that, as concerns about the lack of affordable housing and loss of income and employment increase, many people are looking beyond their own garden gate towards their community for support, and to support others.

As many New Zealanders are forced to reach out for help for the first time, following a loss of income, they are realising “the least, the last and the lost” is no longer a distant concept – these people are found within their whānau, street and community.

The Salvation Army interviewed 564 residents and conducted 14 interviews with key community leaders from Rotorua, Johnsonville and Queenstown, concentrating on the overarching themes of mental health, housing, income/employment, under the lenses of the Covid19 recovery and Election 2020.

All three communities raised major concerns around access to mental health services. Locals consistently made reports of increased stress, anxiety and hardship that affected peoples’ mental health. Existing mental health issues were amplified by job losses, social isolation, lack of income and other social challenges that came with the lockdowns, highlighting the lack of mental health services. Locals in the three areas also pointed to specific mental health issues for children and youth emerging from Covid19.

Overall, the existing housing problems in each community were magnified during and even since the lockdowns began. Responses from locals ranged from stories of homelessness in Rotorua through to unaffordable rental or private housing, especially in Queenstown, as expressed by this respondent.

“Often Queenstown is seen as there being no need, people thinking everyone is ‘rich’. I fear that mental health in particular is going to be a huge issue as, apart from [The Salvation Army] there is very little accessible social assistance and support.”

The primary and direct impact for many locals in our surveys from Covid19 was job losses, income problems and downturns in their local economies. Again, these financial stresses contributed to heightened mental health stress and anxiety during this pandemic.

“I am struggling to get a job. My mental health is on the line. The benefit is not enough to help cover food. I pay rent, expenses and day-care. When it’s raining my kid and I take Uber to go to his day-care. I feel like I have failed,” said one respondent from Johnsonville.

While acknowledging the huge impacts of Covid19, many locals across the three areas wanted to focus on and discuss what recovery from this much talked-of recession looked like moving forward. Locals had their own ideas that included revitalising shopping centres, diversifying economic activity, and increasing investment in health and social support services.

When asked about the most important social issues for Election 2020, employment and incomes, housing and mental health were issues most often named by respondents as their key concerns across all three communities. Some of these were issues these communities were facing prior to Covid19, with the crisis adding to existing pressures.

However, each community had different experiences – Rotorua people identified low wages and lack of employment opportunities, while in Johnsonville concerns about affordable housing, both rental and home ownership, dominated.

In Queenstown, job creation and the situation facing migrant workers was the leading issue. Mental health services were also top concerns in Queenstown and Rotorua as people experience the impact of stress and anxiety as a result of the economic downturn.

One Rotorua respondent said, “Our business lost a lot of work. We are still trying to come back from that. After such a long time off, our teenage son decided school wasn’t for him and didn’t return. Mentally it took a toll because we stressed so much about our business and children and we are still trying to come back from that.”

These three areas were chosen as they were all quite unique; Rotorua has a significant Maori population; Johnsonville is a small and diverse urban community; Queenstown is a tourism mecca with a large migrant worker population. At the same time, these communities shared many similar characteristics, concerns, aspirations and priorities.

The Salvation Army is active and integrated in all these communities, especially during the original lockdowns. Our services in each area are consistent, with each of our local centres providing church services, foodbanks and some social work and counselling. But there are unique ministries or services too. For instance, in Rotorua, we provide transitional housing, Johnsonville has a growing community meals programme, and the Queenstown Salvation Army has a strong support programme to migrant workers.

The State of our Communities Report will be available from embargo at