A woman is standing alone watching her neighbours packing mattresses into a trailer. She tells her children to hug the neighbour’s children. They’re moving permanently to Rotorua.
The woman starts to cry as she tries to tell us how frightened she is at night in the dark street and now her neighbours have gone. I hope the power is on now for her, I pray that Work and Income and Red Cross will give her some hardship money. Because her carpets smell and her car is dead.
A man rings a Green Party member and says his street has no water, no power and no portaloos for several blocks, the e-map of the distribution of toilets shows he’s right. He says people are cooking on single gas rings and sharing what they can but food is a problem. He is cycling for water for his neighbours who are too old to get out. I ring the Council and they give me a job number for his street to get on a priority list for toilets. I will check out how that is going today.
The RAC s (Recovery Assistance Centres) are being established to help with emergency grants from Red Cross and Work and Income, housing issues and Council issues. They are a great idea but when we door knocked in the next street people didn’t know they were there.
People are told to check for information on the internet which is irrelevant. The people we met either had no power or had never had the internet. This is the reality of inequality and the digital divide.
We encouraged people to ask for the emergency money because their costs have been huge already. Every little thing in Christchurch is harder from the extra petrol to get wherever you’re going by circuitous routes to the cost of batteries for torches and food when most supermarkets aren’t open.
In the neighbourhoods of Aranui and New Brighton fantastic community groups, Maori wardens and volunteers are providing food, water, and all kinds of goods. But there are people too afraid or unable to leave their homes.
Some Green women have been gathering cooked food and delivering it to vulnerable people identified by the Student Army and their own door knocking. Nikki Berry and Jacinta O’Reilly are working to support many vulnerable households in this practical way. I was at Nikki’s house when a lovely couple dropped off 40 cup cakes to add to the hot dinners being provided. But how long can they keep doing this?
The humanitarian effort on the ground will be needed for a very long time. It needs to be led by the strongly networked groups like Aranui Community Trust and the marae and Pacific community networks. We need to back these people because they are part of the vulnerable communities.
The market will not provide in Christchurch. It never has provided for the well being of these families. But the community voluntary sector can and will.