More families are living in cars and asking for food parcels as a growing minority are missing out on basics that most New Zealanders take for granted.
Otara Catholic priest Father Brian Prendeville said his parish found people living in 40 cars at the Manukau Velodrome and around Otara recently after a girl went missing.
The Salvation Army said it gave food parcels to 9 per cent more families in the first three months of this year than it did in the same period last year, reversing a slight decline in the previous year.
And the Monte Cecilia Housing Trust in Mangere said some families had never seen an Easter egg, owned pillows, or eaten fresh vegetables as they didn't have cooking facilities.
"We had some high-school girls delivering Easter eggs, and a couple of the kids didn't even know what they were," said the trust's chief executive, Bernie Smith.
"We have volunteers that teach sewing and they were sewing pillowcases out of old sheets and stuffing them with foam, and this lady came to me and said, 'Thank you ... I've never had my own pillow'."
In Auckland, the worsening hardship is driven by housing costs. Average rents for three-bedroom Otara houses rose from $382 a week in March 2014 to $466 this March, but subsidy caps have not changed since 2005. "Prices suddenly got ramped up for houses, but Housing NZ and Work and Income haven't got ramped up," Father Prendeville said.
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett last month said 500 households had been moved out of state housing into private rentals since July 2014. But Father Prendeville said many could not afford the rents.
Many are living with relatives, with 99,030 people in officially overcrowded conditions in South Auckland in the 2013 Census. "We have a three-bedroom home with 21 people in it," he said. "There are two old people, there's one solo mum, and two couples, all with children. Five boys are sleeping in the living room."
But the biggest rises in Salvation Army food parcels in the year to March were in Taranaki (up 67 per cent), Hawkes Bay (up 44 per cent), Southland (up 35 per cent) and Christchurch (up 21 per cent). Auckland numbers rose only 4 per cent.
The Salvation Army also begins its annual Red Shield appeal today.
A new family after the old one falls apart
When Inna Korolyev left her partner in a hurry last winter, the Salvation Army became her "family".
She has two sons aged 17 and 4. She and her ex-partner are Ukrainian and she has no relatives here.
"I found myself on the street with two kids," she said.
A friend helped her to rent a two-bedroom house in West Auckland. But she had no furniture.
"We were sleeping on the floor," she said.
She went to the Salvation Army's Henderson "Faith Factory".
"We walked in here. We asked for food parcels because I didn't get any benefit yet." The Sallies gave her a washing machine, helped with budgeting and gave her a social worker.
"It's also helping with emotional support, mental support. I have no family here, and the Salvation Army has kind of become my family," she said.
Red Shield Appeal
Street collectors, all this week
Countdown, Salvation Army shops