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People are living in severe domestic squalor throughout Aotearoa NZ according to a preliminary survey of key agencies.

In the latest Briefing for the Public Health Communication Centre, experts in public health and the care of older people lay out the results of their survey of local Age Concern organisations and district and city councils which show nearly all were involved with clients living in severe domestic squalor.

Dr Jonathan Jarman who led the research says severe domestic squalor most often refers to homes cluttered in rubbish, infested by vermin, with decomposing food and stench. “The conditions are so bad that most people would say that the house was not fit for human occupation. Common features for people living in these conditions include lack of concern, social withdrawal, hostile attitudes, being older, and in many cases a stubborn refusal of help.”

Dr Jarman says the responses from local Age Concerns showed that over the last 12 months, they had an average of four clients per 100,000 population who were living in severe domestic squalor.

“The time involved with each of these clients ranged from six hours to more than six months. The response from councils was similar in that almost all were involved with people living in domestic squalor. However, they tended to have a lower number of clients and lower time involvement.

Dr Jarman says the difference in the results probably reflects the difference in agency responses with Age Concerns looking at the best outcomes for clients while councils are taking a more statutory approach looking at environmental conditions.

There are significant health risks for these people living in such environments, as well as risks for those they live with, their carers, their visitors, their neighbours, and their pets according to Dr Jarman. “Because of the social isolation and distrust of others, people who live in squalor can suffer a “lonely death” and remain undiscovered for a long period of time.”

Respondents to the survey ranked having a lead agency which coordinates a multi-agency response and having a budget for cleaning homes as the most important suggestions for helping these people in their area.

“We want the best possible health outcomes for these people but at times need to consider how their living conditions are impacting others. No one agency has all the answers,” says Dr Jarman.


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