Demand for deodorant, hand sanitiser, and period products among vulnerable groups has increased during the latest Covid outbreak, Wellington City Mission says.
Personal hygiene essentials are among the first items to go when household budgets are stretched, causing what is known as "hygiene poverty" - a lack of access to bathroom basics and cleaning products.
A survey of 64 people at Wellington and Auckland City Mission found people experiencing hygiene poverty were often forced to make undignified choices.
This included stealing or borrowing items, ripping up old sheets to use as sanitary products, or isolating at home if they did not feel clean.
Hygiene poverty in New Zealand is suspected to have been further exacerbated by the current Covid outbreak.
Wellington City Mission communications manager Kath Bier said cleaning and bathroom products were always highly sought-after items in their social supermarket, but in the latest level 4 lockdown those shelves had been "completely wiped out".
"Hand sanitiser became one of the top five needed items, and disinfectant was a big one," she said.
"These products are as vital as food, but when you're at the end of your weekly budget, you've bought your food and paid the astronomical housing costs, then you have to start prioritising."
On top of an increase in demand, Wellington City Mission was also unable to accept donations during lockdown – meaning their stocks were lower than ever.
Beginning on Monday, a drive from hygiene poverty charity group Soap For Society is calling on individuals and businesses to donate bathroom basics to the City Missions in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.
Founded by Wellington blogger Lucy Revill in 2018, Soap For Society is a drive attempting to alleviate hygiene poverty in New Zealand.
Revill said the survey had shown the heartbreaking reality of the choices people were forced to make when they could not access basic items.
"Not having access to hygiene products can lead to some really depressing things they are forced to do," she said.
"From stealing, to ripping up sheets and using them as rags for your period, to not leaving your house, and feeling embarrassed that your kids have to go to school and be bullied or teased for being unclean."
The survey had also shown people using soap for everything – such as cleaning their house and washing their hair – and women going without sanitary products so their daughters could have them.
Revill said people who could not afford bathroom basics were not always the homeless, but sometimes people in our workplaces that we knew.
"They might have shelter and food, but they might have to borrow toilet paper, and if they have to ask over and over they'll feel real shame and anxiety," she said.
"They might have to do things like take toilet paper from public toilets - that's not a dignified way to live."
She commended the Government for its introduction of period products in schools, but their research had also shown many women aged 30–50 also did not have access to sanitary items.
"Currently, access to bathroom basics is not measured as a specific question in the Government's poverty surveys which are done by the Ministry of health," she said.
"I think we need to start measuring hygiene poverty in New Zealand seriously."
Soap For Society runs for two weeks from October 4.
People are asked to clean out their bathroom cupboards – for unopened products – or do a grocery shop for items such as deodorant, hand sanitiser, shampoo and period products.
Deodorant continued to be the number one item people needed, according to Wellington City Mission.
People in a level 2 environment could bring their donations directly into the City Mission, while those in alert level 3 could donate to the drive online.