Disaster Risk Reduction Policies and Homelessness in New Zealand: Key Informant Perceptions During COVID-19
Disasters are becoming more frequent around the world prompting the need to build more resilient communities and to mobilize efforts to reduce disaster risk. In the past decade the concept of resilience has emerged as guiding principle for disaster risk reduction (DRR). Resilience in its simplest form, is defined as the ability to function under stress and adapt to change. To create a resilient community all members of society need to be integrated, including those that are vulnerable and marginalised. Increasingly research has identified the homeless as highly vulnerable to disaster. The academic literature suggests that people experiencing homelessness are more at risk in the face of hazards because of their inaccessibility to access adequate resources and means of protection. The question of how those that are homeless are navigating through a disaster, and whether policies and actions are effective, point to a longstanding gap. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of homelessness to the forefront of public health and DRR. The pandemic provides an opportunity to assess how DRR policies interact with the issue of homelessness. Focusing on New Zealand, this research aims to investigate the extent to which the homeless are integrated into DRR policies and frameworks across the country. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants (KIs) working in the fields of public health, local government agencies, emergency response agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The findings demonstrate that there is a lack of policies at the central government level which address homelessness as a standalone issue, let alone addressing homelessness within the wider context of DRR. The study finds that in New Zealand, there is no clear lead agency in charge of the homeless during a disaster. This lack of clarity has led to ambiguity in terms of legislative action, coordination and allocation of resources and funding. The findings also suggest that the definition of homelessness can be broadly applied across several categories, but it is rough sleepers that garner the most attention due to their visibility. This has caused the direction of policies and initiatives to focus mostly on rough sleepers as opposed to other types of homelessness. The onset of the COVID-19 allowed outreach workers and local authorities to quickly move rough sleepers into emergency accommodation. In what seemed to be a course of action that solved homelessness, the research instead highlights the overriding priority of public health in the face of a global pandemic. The research concludes that in New Zealand, there is a need for DRR policies and frameworks that are inclusive to the homeless.