Quake strain catalyst for elder abuse

TIM FULTON
Last updated 05:00 12/08/2014

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Old people in Christchurch are being bashed and taken advantage of as earthquake-hit Canterbury families crack under the strain of years being lumped together in overcrowded homes.

Age Concern Canterbury is seeing more than 100 referrals for serious "elder abuse" a year, chief executive Simon Templeton said.

Last month, the Human Rights Commission criticised Christchurch's crowded accommodation as a breach of housing rights.

The problem faced by elderly residents mirrors those for younger families struggling to find suitable places to live.

Templeton said some of the city's elderly had been "been round every family member" in need of somewhere to stay.

Up to 10 members of an extended family were living in two- and three-bedroomed homes, not counting the number of friends "boarding" together or living in "outbuildings" including garages, sleep-outs and sheds, Templeton said.

Families had been trying to handle the situation in-house, but many now needed professional help.

"Generally by the time it comes to our knowledge [at Age Concern] it becomes an elder abuse case", Templeton said.

The abuse ranged from "heavy end assault" to emotional and psychological mistreatment, Templeton said.

CDHB senior social worker Patrick Doyle told The Press: "There can be escalation of tension which may have been fine when people were living separately."

CDHB older persons health team leader Julie Denton said elder abuse cases tended to spike as earthquake repairs were done.

A survey of 100 households by the Hornby-based Te Puawaitanga trust, a kaupapa Maori provider of a range of health, education and social services, also highlights the issue of overcrowded accommodation.

Trust chief executive Alison Bourn said the survey showed the housing situation for its clients had "declined dramatically".

The trust's Tamariki Ora team leader, Dianne Oakley, said the sum of the city's housing problems represented a hopeless "whirl pool" of burdens.

Pre-quake the trust had been in contact with only one homeless family and none lived in outbuildings. Now 11 were homeless and nine families were in makeshift lodgings.

Pre-quake the trust staff assessed 20 per cent of their clients as "extremely vulnerable", compared to 80 per cent now.

Bourn said there was a greater chance of sickness in cramped housing. In some cases whanau were choosing to terminate pregnancies rather than bring another baby into the "current situation".

Some property managers and landlords were asking for four weeks' rent and two to four weeks bond, plus a letting fee.

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"In one situation, property managers are only letting the dwelling for three months and the whanau need to pay the letting fee again and again to stay," Bourn said.

This appeared to be a tactic to move a tenant on if the landlord wished, Bourn said.

- The Press

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