Cold and damp homes are making people unnecessarily sick, and a charity is concerned more and more children are living in those conditions as the country heads into winter.
Susan Glasgow, CEO of the children’s charity Variety, said it was seeing an unparalleled level of demand for their help across the country as the economic effects of Covid-19 continue to bite.
Her comments come as Variety launches its annual appeal. It aims to raise $190,000 to provide beds and warm bedding for more than 500 children as part of its Beds for Kids programme, which it runs in partnership with the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Homes Initiative.
“There’s a young teenage girl that we’re working with, and she needs a new bed to sleep. She’s sleeping on a second-hand mattress on the floor and its springs poke through so she doesn’t get a good night’s sleep,” Glasgow told 1 NEWS.
“As a result, she wakes up tired, and because of that, sometimes misses school because she’s simply too tired.”
She said while warm bedding could seem like a small intervention in the bigger issue of a lack of high-quality, dry homes and rental homes, it made a “massive difference” in reducing the number of times a child went to hospital. Each time the charity donated a bed, it also tried to teach people about how they could make their homes healthier.
“We've got a boy who lives in Dunedin, and he's sharing a bed with his mum to stay warm. He’s suffering, he has asthma. He needs a bed and bedding to reduce the number of hospital admissions that he will have this year due to chest infections.
“[Providing] a bed isn’t about dropping a one-time hospitalisation — it’s about the long-term effect,” she said.
A longitudinal study of 2000 children in New Zealand by building researchers BRANZ and Auckland University found nearly half were sleeping in bedrooms that were too cold.
The Government estimates about 30,000 children are hospitalised every year from conditions like asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis, all related to poor-quality housing. These hospitalisations peak in winter, with younger children being particularly vulnerable.
In last year’s Housing in Aotearoa report, Stats NZ and the Building Research Association found about 28,000 homes around the country were reported to always be damp and have visible mould.
“Those are very, very real statistics… the notion of our ability to sit back and do nothing, it's just not feasible,” Glasgow said.
Dr Alison Leversha, a paediatrician at Auckland’s Starship Hospital, witnesses the impact of housing on children’s health.
Because children tended to spend more time indoors, they were especially vulnerable to the effects of poor housing. It contributed to a “significant number” of preventable respiratory diseases and resulting hospitalisations, Leversha said.
She said this was made worse if children had to share beds because it helped viruses spread, especially in winter.
“Anything that we can do to make so every person lives in a warm, dry, healthy home makes a difference… simple things like having enough beds for every child makes a difference.”
Variety’s Warm Hearts Appeal runs until the end of July. Since 2019, the charity had given away 4000 beds as part of the Beds for Kids programme.