Lessons learned during Covid-19 lockdown should be a catalyst for working more seamlessly with local social agencies, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector Poto Williams said in Tauranga yesterday.

Ms Williams was welcomed by mana whenua, Ngāi Tamarawaho, and met with representatives of voluntary and community groups to discuss sector issues and Covid response. The meeting was organised by SociaLink, the Western Bay umbrella group for social service providers and community organisations.

Ms Williams said she was aware that Tauranga was a city of two halves – the wealthy and those who were living in poverty or homeless – and a huge need for food security was uncovered during lockdown.

Social agencies outlined how they dealt with issues, including mobilising marae and hauora (Māori health and social services) which were regarded as essential services. Iwi used their existing connections to access food and packed and distributed 1900 packs to those in need.

An estimated 4000 homeless are living in the city. Those living on the street were moved to motels, and many had since returned to the streets, SociaLink General Manager Liz Davies said. Working parties were investigating the feasibility of a homelessness hub in the city. Newly disadvantaged groups included young families and grandparents raising grandchildren so the number of meals required was rising.

Poto Williams said that the learning gained during lockdown needed to be maintained and services rolled out in a more comprehensive and collective way.

“We are starting that conversation and want it to be formalised,” she said.