Bay of Plenty support services experienced a “huge” spike in demand over the festive season — with one charity reporting an 80 per cent increase in the number of clients needing food compared with the previous year.
It comes as the manager of the city’s women’s refuge says crisis calls “escalated” during the Christmas period, and a Tauranga homeless shelter was forced to turn people away after reaching capacity.
Waiariki Women’s Refuge director Sarah Small said crisis line calls to the service escalated from December 23, and they were now receiving an average of two or three urgent calls a day.
They were “very busy” between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve providing crisis line support, police assistance and answering housing questions. Most of the women calling over this period had not used the refuge before, she said.
Small said the safe house was at “full capacity” right now and expected it to be this way until mid-February. They had recently noticed more women facing financial abuse and an “increase in strangulation incidences and sexual violence”.
“To help relieve the pressure we are needing to help teach whānau strategies and skills to move forward through healing and planning on new life goals. All men, women and children deserve to live lives free from violence.”
Elmer Peiffer, who runs a free store, Rotorua Whakaora, said more than 200 people turned up to collect food on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Peiffer said on average they had between 250 and 280 show up weekly for food support, with numbers over the holiday period down slightly compared with normal. He was preparing for an influx of people needing assistance in the coming weeks.
St Vincent de Paul was the only organisation providing food support throughout the Christmas and New Year period, with Western Bay of Plenty area manager Lorna Edlin describing work as “absolutely flat out”.
Edlin said they spent about $80,000 on food and provided 1900 households with food parcels in December. This was an 80 per cent increase in the number of households they helped compared with the same time last year, she said.
“We were the only agency open. Nineteen hundred is a huge amount for us in one month considering how many holidays there are,” she said.
“I have been here 10 years and I have never seen it as busy as we have been. December has been a bit of a blur and January is getting a bit like that.”
In addition to food support, the charity attended police welfare callouts and provided some families with furniture, whitewater and items for infants.
She said it was vital they stayed open in the holidays to support those facing emergencies.
On Christmas Eve, Edlin and her husband furnished a house for a mum of two boys from Taupō escaping domestic violence. They were also given food, Christmas presents and clothing, she said.
“The mum was silent with tears running down her face.”
Then on January 1, they furnished a house for a young man whose mother had just died. He was going to be caring for his teenage half-brother so needed ongoing support, she said.
Bay of Plenty sexual harm support service Tautoko Mai saw a “consistent number of referrals” over the holiday period, but more demand than usual for “urgent medical and crisis support”.
Chief executive Blair Gilbert said sexual harm and assaults were the main reason for people seeking help during this time, with patients requiring counselling, social work and medical support.
“We ensured we had key staff available that were able to respond to the need during this time.”
He said the organisation offered a 24/7 service every day of the year to ensure “we are there for anyone who needs support”.
Meanwhile, in Tauranga, Takitimu House manager Annamarie Angus told the Bay of Plenty Times the men’s shelter had been “at capacity” since Christmas and staff had to turn some people away.
She described the need as “huge”, saying it was higher than the Christmas and New Year period in previous years.
“We are fielding so many inquiries and we just can’t take them because we are full,” she said.
She said it was difficult to pinpoint the cause of the increase in demand, but some needing a place to stay were going through family crises.
A reduced number of staff members were working at the men’s shelter — which had 20 beds — over the holiday period, however, Angus said the job was no more intensive than it was during the rest of the year.