Wellington Scoop

Johnsonville survey shows locals want mental health, housing and income support

News from Salvation Army
Johnsonville is among three communities crying out for a serious effort to deal with lack of mental health support, insecure housing and inadequate incomes, according to a report from the Salvation Army.

“Any recovery and rebuilding efforts from the impacts of Covid-19 must include local communities and address existing and emerging critical social and health issues, and also build on the strength already found in these communities,” says Ana Ika, Social Policy Advocate. “In Election 2020, these real voices of communities must be listened to.”

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 backyard towards their community for support for themselves and 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 Covid-19 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 people’s 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 Covid-19.

Housing affordability was top of mind for Johnsonville respondents, and with more than a third (38 percent) of the 141 residents interviewed for the report having had their employment impacted due to Covid-19, mental health issues, inequities between locals, and challenges for the local refugee and migrant populations were also of concern.

Locals pointed to pockets of poverty in their local community within the relative financial stability for many households. Another common topic was regeneration, with many respondents expressing the need for a revamped Johnsonville Shopping Centre (mall) to attract business to the suburb.

Between July 2019 and June 2020, 268 food parcels were distributed in the area. In that same period, nearly 600 community meals were provided to locals, although the lockdowns greatly affected this. Since Covid-19, The Salvation Army in Johnsonville has seen increases in new clients to their social work, counselling and especially addictions services. The numbers of addiction assessments completed by existing and new clients has spiked between March and June 2020, again signifying the harm people were facing during Covid-19.

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.”

From Johnsonville:

“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 Covid-19, 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 services were issues most often named by respondents as their key concerns across all three communities. Some of these were issues communities were facing prior to Covid-19, with the crisis adding to existing pressures.

However, each community had different experiences: Rotorua locals identified social and emergency housing and the lack of employment opportunities; Johnsonville locals had concerns about affordable housing, both rental and home ownership; 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.

These three areas were chosen as they were all unique: Rotorua has a significant Māori 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, but particularly 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 is available here.