DI WALTERS and Carol Sleep see human suffering every day in Coffs Harbour and it’s getting worse.
Mrs Walters is the Salvation Army’s welfare and community centre manager and Mrs Sleep co-ordinates LifeHouse Care, and both agencies are inundated with people crying out for help.
“Poverty is extremely bad here – there is no affordable housing for a start,” Mrs Walters said.
“We try and help people out of the poverty cycle. We help everyone – even if it’s a referral to something better.
“Very rarely they go without a voucher.”
Mrs Walters said there was strong demand for food, electricity and phone vouchers, and the Salvos also helped with clothing vouchers, along with soft furnishings like curtains and bedspreads.
“There are people here who are absolutely on the bread-line,” she said.
“On average we see 150 people a week.
“Coffs Harbour is a fantastic place to be broke in the summer but it’s an expensive place to live.
“Usually it’s people who don’t have family support and a lot have only lived on the dole and they don’t know how to get off it.”
Carol Sleep has seen a big shift in her client base to what she describes as ‘the working poor’.
“They’re finding it tough and the lack of affordable rentals is the real key – a basic two-bedroom flat at Park Beach is $200 a week and houses are $340 a week.
“We’ve had an increasing amount of people needing assistance with electricity vouchers or they are needing support with food because they have just paid a large electricity bill.
“There’s added stresses if your partner loses their job and you’ve got a couple of children to feed and clothe and then run a car – that can be nearly impossible.”
Mrs Sleep said there was always demand for food parcels, clothing, electricity and phone vouchers and help with paying for prescriptions.
“Coffs Harbour is one of the highest unemployment areas. That’s the reality,” she said.
“People are struggling not because they’ve done something wrong. They’re trying to do the right thing and they’ve been forced to come to us.
“We did a big blanket run a few months ago – high electricity bills meant people didn’t want to put the heating on.
“The rising costs of living are hurting people in the hip pocket.”