Fears grow for needy as winter bites

By Lindy Laird


Social agencies say that while most people can just turn up the heater when the winter weather sets in, others find the power bill breaks the bank.

Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Trust manager Chrissie McLoughlin said winter takes its toll on needy people and she fears tougher Government criteria for welfare assistance will push some into more desperate straits.

"As far as stricter criteria for help, I do understand that some things need to be tightened but people in real need will now find it harder to get assistance," Ms McLoughlin said of the benefit system changes to be introduced next month.

The Government describes it as "an investment approach that will target those most at risk of long-term welfare dependence".

But Ms McLoughlin said more practical solutions were needed to help some people live on what they already earned or were entitled to.

The new Social Housing Reform (Amendment Bill) which will allow private sector groups to provide social housing was unlikely to have an immediate impact on local homelessness, she said.

The pressure on emergency housing had increased steadily over the seven years since the emergency housing trust started in Whangarei. It provides temporary accommodation for over 200 people a year, including children, and has a "wrap-around" networking policy that refers clients to other assistance.

The trust commonly helped people who struggled to pay their bills and had lost tenancy agreements. Some clients had mental health issues or needed temporary accommodation after being released from prison; not all were beneficiaries and there were many, sometimes complex reasons why people needed emergency housing, Ms McLoughlin said.

The trust is currently awaiting this winter's onslaught.

"The single men's quarters are chock-a-block to overflowing right now. There's not so much pressure on the family units this week at least, but that can change in a heartbeat."

The Whangarei Salvation Army has also seen a rise in people seeking help since the weather turned, community ministries team leader Cathy Elkington said.

The Salvation Army did not provide emergency housing but made referrals to other services. The church no longer provided community meals but distributed goods, blankets and warm clothing donated by the public.

"We've done a month of cold and wet now. We'll soon be seeing the effect of that."

- Northern Advocate

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