Major Mike Allwright’s Community Ministries teams had a tough 2011 dealing with the human cost of the Canterbury quakes. This was on top of the already rising demand for social services in the wake of the recession.
Community Ministries across the South Island have been under intense pressure coping with the stream of Christchurch residents seeking to escape the tragedy, confusion and creeping poverty following the quakes. Mike says a large number of these families left town with only the possessions they could squeeze into their cars, many turning up at local Community Ministries seeking help with clothing, accommodation, furniture and food.
To add to the division’s long list of challenges, three major Christchurch Family Stores were destroyed or severely damaged during the quakes, cutting off an important source of funding to local community ministries at a time when they need it most.
The South Island’s Community Ministries centres are running at full throttle, Mike says. It’s a testament to the dedication and energy of their officers and staff, and the backing of local corps, as well as the teams of Salvation Army volunteers from around the country, that they have been able to cope with demand, he says.
‘Prior to the quakes, more and more families were coming to us with increasingly complicated problems related to job losses and reduced work hours,’ Mike says. ‘With the quakes, the volume of people we were working with—now including middle-income families —and the range of problems they faced exploded. And when the middle income-earners are coming to The Salvation Army for assistance, then you know things are bad,’ he says.
The numbers tell the story. From the last three months of 2010, compared to the same period in 2011, food parcel distribution in the Southern Division increased almost 40 per cent to a total of 15,540. This excludes 11,255 food parcels earmarked for earthquake emergency food aid, processed and distributed mainly through the region’s Community Ministries centres.
The rising complexity of the underlying problems that bring clients to Southern Division Community Ministries is reflected in the work carried out behind the food banks. The provision of social work services in 2011 increased 128.5 per cent and budgeting 26.3 per cent.
To put the increases into a wider context, at the start of the recession in 2008, the Southern Division was distributing about 1760 food parcels per quarter. This has leapt to 4400 for the last quarter of 2011, or a 150 per cent rise. The increase in intensity of the work during this period is illustrated by the 189 per cent rise in budgeting services provided, and a 203 per cent jump in the provision of social work services.
Mike Allwright expects no let-up for the next couple of years at least. Christchurch social service agencies are warning of a growing housing crisis and, with rents already rising as demand for housing increases, Mike suspects more low-income families will uproot and move to other South Island towns as their lives in the city become untenable.
About 3000 families who had to move from their damaged homes are using insurance cover to pay for rented accommodation while they await repairs. This cover is starting to expire, leaving households the option of trying to pay the costs of maintaining two properties or moving back into their damaged homes. The Salvation Army has seen a number of families returning to damaged properties as their rental assistance expires. The welfare of uninsured homeowners, particularly the elderly living in damaged dwellings, is a growing concern, Mike says.
City property managers, who together oversee 11,500 rental houses, say virtually nothing is available to rent and emergency accommodation is full. Mike expects the housing shortage will be further exacerbated as the migrant reconstruction workforce peaks at 26,000 in 2014.
While the picture is far from rosy, Mike says The Salvation Army’s mission in Canterbury has made a significant difference for thousands of families and will continue to do so for as long as it takes.
By Jon Hoyle (from War Cry, 21 April 2012, p11)
Red Shield Appeal donations go toward the day-to-day operation of welfare and social services of Community Ministries centres, while Canterbury Earthquake Appeal proceeds are used to meet earthquake-related needs and longer-term recovery projects.