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Indigenous people need to live in healthy and safe environments and communities with adequate housing and suitable services and facilities. Unfortunately, many Indigenous people do not experience these conditions. Issues of concern are:
For Indigenous people housing and communities must be suitable for social, cultural and special needs, and be adaptable for various life stages. Indigenous people often travel among different communities for social and cultural reasons which impacts on the demand for accommodation and facilities. In communities there should be access to services: medical services; shops; fire and emergency services; sport and recreation facilities. It is important for Indigenous people to be consulted about housing and community issues to ensure their needs are met.
Indigenous people live in a range of accommodation types: privately owned homes; rented properties; transportable buildings; hostels; temporary homes such as camps, and prisons. The Indigenous population is increasingly living in urban areas.
In 2007-2008 about a third of Indigenous households were home owners or purchasers, a third rented privately, a fifth rented from state or territory housing authorities, and a tenth rented from mainstream or Indigenous community housing organisations. Almost 2 out of every 100 Indigenous people were homeless.
Indigenous people live in either permanent or improvised dwellings. Permanent dwellings have fixed walls, doors and roof, and usually have kitchen and bathroom facilities. These dwellings are made from regular building materials and are intended for long term residential use. An improvised dwelling is a structure used as a place of residence that does not meet the building requirements to be considered as a permanent dwelling; including caravans, tin sheds without internal walls, humpies and dongas.
Indigenous environmental health practitioners provide a wide range of services to their communities including repairs and maintenance, hygiene and resource management (such as water supply), risk management, pest control, and waste and rubbish disposal including hazardous material. They are often involved in community education about these matters and work closely with workers in other professions and with government and non government agencies. Their duties include performing environmental checks on houses and communities and recording the information. They are involved in talks about what needs to be done, they often perform maintenance work on fixtures and fittings that aren't working properly and arrange tasks for tradespeople.
The role of an Indigenous environmental health practitioner varies according to location. In rural and remote areas for example, they would be more involved in maintenance. Housing problems vary according to location. In urban areas access to housing can be difficult. In rural and remote areas standards of housing can be poor.
Indigenous environmental health practitioners need an understanding of housing and community issues such as planning, building construction, maintenance and energy efficiency. Homes need to have a safe structure. Indigenous environmental health practitioners need to be aware of building codes and standards, including:
A house needs to be adequate for the amount of people living in it. Often in Indigenous communities there can be 10 or more people living in a house. This places pressure on fixtures and fittings, for example, septic tanks need to be able to cope with higher use from the large number of people living in a house. The kitchen and wet areas of a house are often where there are hazards for Indigenous families and these areas need to be regularly checked and maintained. Homes also need suitable storage facilities.
Energy efficiency is important. Houses need to be designed and situated to suit the environment, particularly where there are extreme weather conditions. Temperature control facilities are needed for heating and cooling; and lighting is needed inside and outside buildings. Homes also need hot water, refrigeration, and facilities for cooking and washing clothing. Power sources for homes can be electrical, solar, gas, diesel, and with modern technology hybrid sources such as solar/diesel are also available.
Indigenous environmental health practitioners promote and educate community members about Healthy living practices.
These practices help to improve the environment and reduce infections such as diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory infections, skin infections, eye infections and other transmissible diseases.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2009) Indigenous housing indicators 2007-08. (AIHW Catalogue no. HOU 212, Indigenous Housing series number 3) Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/hou/hou-212-10701/hou-212-10701.pdf
Department of Families Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) (2007) National Indigenous housing guide. Canberra: Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sa/indigenous/progserv/housing/Documents/default.htm
Menzies School of Health Research (2000) Environmental health handbook: a practical manual for remote communities. Darwin: Menzies School of Health Research