• Carol Barron

Working in Lockdown – Vaccinations & Support

This article was first published in eMesenger in September 2021.

During lockdown, most of our Mission staff are essential workers, so for them work has not stopped. For some Mission staff this means increased levels of stress as they manage working from home, juggling childcare and schooling, and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people they work with.

I know that those of you who are reading this support the work of the Missions and appreciate the work Mission staff undertake in the name of Te Hāhi Weteriana. So let me take you on a journey around the motu to acknowledge and appreciate this work.

In Auckland Tāmaki Makarau, Lifewise is still busily operating their youth housing sites while observing the safety protocols that keep everyone safe in COVID-19 Alert Level 4. It’s a tough time for young people as the COVID restrictions mean a greater disconnection from their peers who they should be closely connected with at this time in their lives. Lifewise Youth Workers connect with the young people they work with digitally, which as we know is a mode of communication young people are very comfortable with. Using various digital media, the team at Lifewise reach out to ensure young people aren’t left isolated or in hardship. They check young people have all their immediate needs such as shopping, food, phone and data top ups. The team also use this opportunity to inform, educate and try to relieve the boredom of yet another lock down.

Some young people are without a safe place to stay and risk ending up in unsafe and inappropriate settings alongside very unwell adults, caught up in domestic violence, or gang related activity. Lifewise staff worked collaboratively with the Ministry of Housing & Urban Development and the Ministry of Social Development to find a more tailored response for vulnerable young people so they were not exposed to further risks in addition to their housing situation. A hostel in Central Auckland was found which has a youth friendly space and 24/7 support on site for the young people. Fifteen young people were moved in over the first couple of weeks of lockdown and Lifewise provided a youth worker to provide support on site. Lifewise is also working with the Tindall Foundation on funding for immediate needs for the young people.

Merge café is currently closed to the public, however Lifewise’s Community Support Team that usually work from Merge are checking in with the community they normally see there. This team is providing emergency support to people and working with MSD and HUD to ensure the needs of our most vulnerable are met. The Auckland DHBs are mobile and meeting street people in motels to provide vaccinations.

Lifewise hosted a COVID-19 vaccine outreach clinic for their street whānau, clients and frontline staff at the beginning of August. The clinic was organised by the Lifewise Housing First team and the Auckland DHB. People could just walk in off the street as no appointment was necessary and over 100 people were vaccinated over the two days. Lifewise is strongly advocating for all those who require their services to receive the vaccine and are doing everything they can to make that process as simple as possible.

Siaola, the Vahefonua Tongan Methodist Mission, is working with their member churches to encourage their communities to be vaccinated. Siaola is embarking on a joint venture with the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga to find incentives to encourage people to be vaccinated. Siaola’s counsellors, psychologists, and teachers are all working with referrals from COVID-19 workers. Siaola staff undertake assessments including whether families need food parcels, and inquiring whether they need transport to get vaccinated. Siaola’s staff are working hard to break down the barriers that prevent Tongan families from seeking the support they need. As there is high trust for the Tongan Church Leaders, this provides the reach into the Tongan communities. Siaola reported that they organised and provided food parcels for 500 families in the week ending 4th September. Siaola is also working with CMM for delivery of food parcels to Tongan families in Christchurch, if required.

Siaola have actively supported vaccinations for their staff and have ensured that those essential workers that are delivering food parcels are vaccinated and are provided with PPE to wear.

The Taranaki Vaimoana Pasifika Charitable Trust were able to work closely with the Taranaki District Health Board to organise a COVID-19 vaccination hub set up specifically for the Pasifika community within Taranaki. This hub was set up at the Whiteley Methodist Centre in central New Plymouth and vaccinations were offered on the 8th June, 13th July and the 10th August, and attracted approx. 400 people across the three vaccination sessions. The Taranaki Vaimoana Pasifika Charitable Trust provided both vaccination staff and vaccination recipients with food, refreshments and a safe space within which to fellowship and relax, before and after receiving vaccination, which helped to make the experience more relaxing and comfortable for everyone.

Leaders from the various Pasifika church denominations attended, as well as Community leaders including the New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom, and members of New Plymouth Labour MP, Glen Bennett’s office – see photo below. These challenging times were made easier by working connexionally with the North Taranaki Methodist Office who were very accommodating with the use of their great facilities. Mataiva Robertson, Chairperson of the Taranaki Vaimoana Pasifika Charitable Trust acknowledges the Tua’a Sinasina group for their wonderful hospitality.

Methodist City Action (MCA) cannot offer their usual services and programmes during lockdown, however, they have again swung into action using their commercial kitchen to produce meals every day for the Hamilton Men’s Nightshelter, which does not currently have adequate kitchen facilities. Maxine Campbell, Director at MCA, reports they are short of protein at the moment, so if you know of any contacts that could help out with this, please contact Maxine. The Kai Collective has also swung into action during lockdown again and you can read more about it here:

Palmerston North Methodist Social Services’ Foodbank service is operating during lockdown with controls on the numbers of clients coming in and out. Kim Penny, Director, explains difficulty that all Mission Directors are facing - not knowing the length of lockdown is challenging when planning service delivery.

David Hanna, Director at Wesley Community Action (WCA), reports that their greatest concern is the whānau they work with who are not vaccinated against COVID-19. WCA arranged for a nurse to visit the Pacific men’s group in Porirua to discuss the benefits of vaccinations. After this session, the men were much better informed about the benefits of vaccination and risks of not being vaccinated. All the participants changed their minds and are now championing COVID-19 vaccinations in their community.

The biggest concerns for Jill Hawkey, Director of Christchurch Methodist Mission (CMM), is the safety and wellbeing of WesleyCare residents, who go through lockdown without any visitors from family and friends. CMM is also concerned about their Housing First kaewa and has worked collaboratively with CDHB for vaccinations for this group. CMM wrote a transportation policy that applies to staff when they are transporting kaewa to their vaccination appointments. To ensure safety of everyone, CMM staff need to be vaccinated to transport kaewa and both need to wear masks and sit as far apart as possible in the vehicle.

In Dunedin, Methodist Mission Southern’s Youth Transition Houses are operating during lockdown providing one on one support for residents and their recent ex-residents. MMS staff made contact with all their Specialist Support and Sustaining Tenancies clients multiple times, making referrals to support agencies, like MSD, food banks, Hāpu support agencies etc., and providing support, someone to talk to one to one. Staff also provided daily educational sessions via an app to their Little Citizens whānau and tamariki, as well as almost daily phone calls and check ins with this group. At Alert Level 3 MMS’s early childhood education centres are open and providing support to the tamariki and their whānau.

All Missions provide support to their staff and have policies in place regarding vaccinations of staff and how to keep them safe while working. This adds an extra level of stress to their already stressful jobs which impacts on the resilience and energy levels of staff.

If you would like to know more information about accessing vaccinations and working with vulnerable groups during this time, please feel free to contact your local Methodist Mission. Also, feel free to contact them to offer your support, whatever this may look like.

Carol Barron, National Coordinator

03 375 0512 | 027 561 9164 |

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