Hundreds of Aucklanders experiencing distress from drug use or a mental health crisis are seeking weekend solace in a Karangahape Road cafe.
One year since Haven opened, its peer support workers say they are starting to see the effects of Covid in the spike of visitors, including about one in five who are under the influence of synthetic drugs.
The service operates from Friday nights to Sunday nights inside Merge Cafe, and is a pilot programme run by the rehabilitation centre Odyssey House, homelessness support agency Lifewise, and mental health service Mind & Body.
Programme manager Rachel Scaife said it provided a friendly ear and a referral service for people dealing with addiction, mental health problems, or those simply needing a bit of time out, with some visitors even catching buses across the city to get there.
"The idea's that we're a safe space run by peer support staff, people with lived experience.
"Basically we are just an open door, so we don't ask anybody where they're from. It doesn't matter if they've travelled all the way from Papakura. Everybody's welcome," she said.
The number of visitors per weekend rose from about 100 each weekend in October last year, to 200 in March, before surging to 300 each weekend after the nationwide lockdown.
Scaife said the need was now bigger than ever; last month Haven clocked about 420 visitors each weekend, and she hoped the service could be expanded to other parts of Auckland.
Peer Support Worker Darrell Wilson said there were 80 regulars and an increasing number under the influence of synthetics.
"Spotting the synthetic is easy, because of their appearance. I think that's 15 to 20 per cent of [visitors]." he said.
"The next biggest thing is cannabis, then meth. Over the past few months it has grown to the stage where, thank God we're here!" he said.
Haven's staff were unsure if the increase in synthetics, including synthetic cannabis, was because they are more easily accessible, or if Covid was making it harder to source other drugs.
However, more visitors were new to being homeless, which Lifewise head of community-led initiatives Justine McFarlane said could predispose them to substance abuse - or be the key to helping them beat it.
'We've had a number of people that had their addictions, we got them into housing and then they settled. They start to feel ... rested. They're not on high alert.
"Then they start to unpack, think: 'I do want to get off drugs, I do want to get support for my alcohol abuse'."
This month New Zealanders are being asked whether the use, sale and production of cannabis should be legalised, with many campaigners pointing to a potential decrease in the use of harmful synthetic alternatives as a reason to vote for new legislation.
Wilson said he was personally worried about adding to the current mix, for Haven's most vulnerable visitors.
"We see enough here. Adding to it scares me a little bit," he said.
However, Wilson said treating cannabis as a misdemeanour and keeping other users locked up in jail, wasn't a solution either.