Free program making hundreds of homes in north Waikato warmer and healthier

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Huntly Mama Sheryl Matenga and Vicki Phelwasher, Senior Case Manager at Whare Ora.

MARK TAYLOR / Stuff / Waikato Times

Huntly Mama Sheryl Matenga and Vicki Phelwasher, Senior Case Manager at Whare Ora.

A Huntly family living in two cabins is just one of thousands of Whānau in Waikato who needed help this year to make their homes healthier.

Sheryl Matenga, her partner, baby and three children moved into a home owned by Whānau in Huntly in 2019 when their rent exceeded what they could afford.

They were one of 223 families in North Waikato benefited through the Waikato District Health Board’s free Whare Ora program.

Its goal was to reduce Waikato’s preventable children’s hospitalizations by focusing on children who were most at risk.

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The whare ora mahi isn't nine to five, but Vicki Phelwasher and Gabrielle Swift love it.

Mark Taylor/Stuff

The whare ora mahi isn’t nine to five, but Vicki Phelwasher and Gabrielle Swift love it.

The program began in 2014 and has since grown to over 4,000 interventions across Waikato in the last year alone.

Matenga and her family lived in two huts outside the main house where other Whānau lived.

“They gave us everything we needed for our cabins and the main house,” Matenga said.

“Linens, beds, heaters, curtains and draft stoppers. They also got us a referral to an insulation company who completely insulated the house. It has absolutely helped our health.”

About a year ago, Matenga and her whānau moved into their own home, and the family helped them renovate it over the summer.

Whare Ora helped them find a cheaper electricity company, which she says made a big difference in reducing their electric bills.

Ezra Dixon, Whare Ora’s case manager, said the program focuses on children coming from cold and moldy homes that lack ventilation and insulation, and who lack adequate heating.

“We work with Whānau with very high needs, especially those who come to us from hospitalization.

“A healthy home must be warm, dry, smoke-free, and free of allergens.”

He said many homes in New Zealand are damp, cold and unhealthy, averaging 6°C below the World Health Organization recommended minimum indoor temperature of 18°C ​​in winter.

A cold and damp home could increase the risk of respiratory diseases – like asthma and serious chest infections.

It was also more expensive to heat damp, drafty and poorly insulated apartments.

Dixon said homes also need to be free of pests like fleas, roaches and mites and, where possible, have underfloor and ceiling insulation.

The Whare Ora team not only shared tips on how to keep the home warmer and drier, but also provided families who have qualified products to help.

Everything from heaters to curtains to mold kits was available for families from the Coromandel Peninsula to Taumarunui.

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