For most of the past 12 months, Mark Shannon has been sleeping rough in the streets around Nelson’s central city.

He says while coronavirus is a scary subject, it hasn’t made him change his day-to-day life.

“When you see the news of 300 dying in Italy in a day, it is concerning, or course it is.

Published in Stuff

“But I’m of the belief us mongrels will survive. Your doctor and lawyer who hasn’t been subject to anything rough or tough or whatever, are more vulnerable than us – we’re on the upside coming out.”

Homeless advocacy group Gimme Shelter has estimated 40,000 or more New Zealanders are currently defined as homeless, with about 5000 sleeping rough and the rest living in inadequate, temporary, or overcrowded housing.

Spokesperson James Crow said for people living in inappropriate housing, coronavirus and the possibility of self-isolation would likely exacerbate a problem they were already dealing with every winter.

“It’s the same issue every year. People in those situations don’t have the ability to stop colds and flu within the family unit.

“If you take a three-bedroom home and add 15 people to it, you’ve lost the opportunity use a home as a safe place to maintain hygiene levels.”

Crow said the elderly and immune-deficient were particularly at risk, with a lack of private spaces and being forced to sleep in lounges or in groups.

He said for many people sleeping rough they were in a self-isolation situation already, with people not wanting to readily interact with them.

After getting stabbed in January, Shannon moved away from his camp and into low-cost accommodation in Nelson.

He still spends much of his time with homeless friends around town, and says not much has changed due to the coronavirus threat.

“We spend a lot of our day in the library, we can go on to the computers so we’re aware of it.

“I still hang out with my mates, still shake hands – if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen.”

Another man in a similar situation, Kenny, said it was something he didn’t really think about.

While currently in accommodation, he said he was soon moving out and was going to live rough in a tent.

“I’ve heard little bits and pieces about it – but I sort of stay away from everyone anyway and just do my own thing.”

An Auckland City Mission spokeswoman said making sure the homeless were cared for during the pandemic was becoming a challenge.

Along with an increase in demand for food parcels, there was concern over the drop off in volunteer staffing recently.

She said if people did see rough sleepers with symptoms, it was important to get in touch with them or Healthline to make sure they could be looked after.

“When people are told to stay in self-isolation, how does that work for someone who has no home to go to?”

Salvation Army spokeswoman Louise Parry said they were expecting to see an increase in demand for services over the coming weeks, but it was still unclear what that would look like.

“In situations like this it’s often the most vulnerable who are hit the hardest.

“The most important thing is to keep our staff and clients healthy – we want to be able to provide psycho-social and physical support for as long as we can.”

By Tim Newman
Published in Stuff
23 March 2020