Homeless People in the Face of Hazards and Disasters: Auckland as a Case Study

St Martin, Mathew
Le De, Loic
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Master of Emergency Management
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Auckland University of Technology

Homeless people are disproportionately vulnerable to hazards and disasters because of different intersecting factors, including lack of access to resources, mental health issues and marginalization. Unfortunately, there is limited research focusing on homeless people in the face of hazards and disasters. We know little about homeless people’s experiences facing hazards and the mechanisms they utilize to overcome them. The same can be said concerning our understanding of the limits of their access to resources vital to preparing and responding to the disasters of their everyday lives. This is also the case when responding to large-scale events that can pose a substantially larger burden on their already precarious and difficult situation. The aim of the study was to gain a better understanding of homeless people’s experiences in terms of their preparation and response to both daily and large-scale disasters. More specifically, the objectives of this Master’s Dissertation were to understand the mechanisms homeless people utilize to overcome the effects of hazards and disasters in an urban setting. In addition, the research examined what role the Government and local organizations play before, during and after the disaster, and how those experiencing homelessness view their performance. Homelessness is a growing problem in New Zealand. In parallel, the country is prone to a multitude of natural and human-induced hazards such as floods, storms, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis and epidemics. The research focused on Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand and where the majority of homeless people live. The study was conducted after the Sky City fire in the Auckland CBD and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 10 semi-structured interviews were conducted with homeless people from Auckland’s CBD utilizing a qualitative descriptive approach and were then thematically analyzed. The findings indicate that homeless people perceived the daily hazards of everyday life as more threatening than large-scale disasters. The findings also suggest that those experiencing homelessness are substantially more resourceful and resilient than often suggested in the literature. The participants in this study demonstrated a strong sense of community amongst the homeless, and that sense of belonging to a community increased their resilience to hazards. The findings also highlight that resource allocation for the homeless has significantly improved in recent years, especially in response to the recent and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still plaguing the country at the time of the interviews. The participants had an overwhelmingly positive view of the performance of both the Government and the organizations tasked with assisting the homeless in their daily struggle with hazards and disasters. This was especially the case in response to the pandemic where it was revealed that the vast majority of those who wanted temporary housing were able to receive it. The study concludes by highlighting the importance of the Government and organizations creating a pathway for those in temporary accommodation to attain permanent housing and continued access to resources in the community. Lastly, it emphasizes the need for a better understanding of homeless people’s strengths and weaknesses in the face of the hazards and disasters to adequately tackle disaster risk.

Homeless , Hazards , Disaster , Resilience
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