Workers in east rely on welfare

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Financially stretched homeowners in eastern Christchurch are relying on food banks and budgeting advice previously accessed mostly by beneficiaries.

Support agencies in the eastern suburbs say a new group of earthquake-hit, middle-income families are using their services, and demand is expected to grow this year as people's financial and emotional reserves are stretched.

The Delta Community Support Trust sits on the edge of the residential red zone in Richmond and provides food, courses and counselling to people in need.

Trust community services manager Tony McCahon said that before the February quake the trust had mostly supported struggling beneficiaries, but many had since moved to Upper Riccarton, Papanui or even Australia.

Taking their place were people who owned quake-damaged homes and were struggling over insurance problems, alternative housing and mortgages.

"We have had a lot of new people come to the food bank – people that had never accessed our service before," McCahon said.

Classes on setting goals had been replaced with courses in coping with the quakes and the "new normal".

"There is a real sense of resignation about people now," he said.

"They are just permanently stressed out."

Stephen Lapslie manages the Salvation Army's Linwood centre, where the demand for support services has trebled since the February 22 quake.

"In the past we've been looking after marginalised people that are often not working. Now we've got people working, with young families and middle incomes," he said.

Before the February quake, the Linwood centre gave out about 60 food parcels a week, but this rose to more than 600 a day during the initial state of emergency.

The number had since dropped to about 120 parcels a week, but was not expected to return to pre-quake levels, he said.

Bruce Coffey was appointed earthquake recovery manager for the Salvation Army in May, fronting a 30-strong team that remains busy nearly a year after the quake.

The team has been in eastern Christchurch schools supporting distressed pupils and doing door-to-door checks on some of the worst-hit streets.

Residents now in need were not only from low socioeconomic groups, but people who owned houses and had good jobs, Coffey said.

"Crunch time" would come early this year for many people as insurance cover for wages or alternative accommodation ran out, he said.

Already people were returning to derelict homes in the residential red zone to save on rent, he said.

"We are worried that in one or two years' time, when the bulldozers arrive, there will still be people in those communities," he said.

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