COVID-19 is impacting everyone, but not everyone is impacted equally.
People who are living in poverty, have pre-existing health problems, an insecure income, living in substandard accommodation or rough sleeping are among those facing additional challenges.
These marginalised communities often face additional barriers when trying to access the health information and support they need, meaning they often miss out on mainstream health services.
cohealth’s Homelessness and Health Support team provides outreach services to residents at caravan parks and rooming houses.
Homelessness Community Support Worker Josh Gliwa says people on low incomes are often pushed into rooming houses and caravan parks because it’s all they can afford.
“These types of accommodation are too often the last resort for people on very low incomes, so they become concentrated with people with a complex range of health and social problems,” Josh says.
Every other Tuesday, the outreach team visit residents of Honey Hush caravan park. On alternating Tuesdays, they visit residents of seven private rooming houses in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
Residents are offered housing support and connected with essential health services. Often, doctors, dentists, dieticians and physiotherapists will come on site to provide care.
cohealth client Geoff*, 51, spent 11 years on the priority wait list for housing, during which he couchsurfed, lived in rooming houses and hostels above pubs. He was living at Honey Hush caravan park for two years before cohealth helped him secure more permanent housing.
“Caravan parks are supposed to be for holidays, not forever. Most people don’t have anywhere else to go,” says Geoff. He was paying $230 a week, which was is more than 50 per cent of his income.
Life looks very different for Geoff now, who is living comfortably in community housing provided by Unison Housing.
The outreach team also organise social activities like community BBQs to connect residents living at caravan parks and help with feelings of social isolation.
COVID-19 restrictions have highlighted the important role that outreach workers play in the health of our communities. The cohealth team have shifted the focus of their outreach work during the pandemic to ensure residents have access to food and other essentials.
For families who are struggling with homeschooling, the team have provided kids activities and colouring books to help with boredom.
“The parents appreciate just having a chat about the pressures of homeschooling and keeping kids occupied during lockdown,” says Josh.
Cheryl*, 64, has been living at Honey Hush since November 2019, living next door to her brother and his family. She says the outreach team help foster a sense of community at the caravan park.
“(My nephew) can’t wait until cohealth comes out each Tuesday. He sits and waits outside his unit. And when he sees them, he just goes crazy.”
The outreach team also recently organised COVID-19 testing at the sites and are supporting residents to understand health directions to protect themselves and their communities through the pandemic.
While the outreach team assist residents to apply for public housing, the waitlist is long. As residents wait for more permanent housing solutions, the outreach team provide ongoing support to minimise the impact that housing insecurity has on the residents’ health.
Cheryl finds it hard living at the caravan park, and says she is run down and stressed. She also worries about other residents’ mental health, particularly with everyone being isolated inside.
In addition to mental health, people in sub-standard accommodation are prone to other health concerns including chronic illness, poor diet and nutrition, respiratory issues and drug and alcohol addiction. The outreach team helps connect people who are struggling with essential services that meet their needs.
*Names have been changed to protect the client’s identity.
Photo credit: Foodbank