The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Two years on in Christchurch

Good News stories abound in Christchurch

A local farmer had an abundance of potatoes, so he called on two employees of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, Cinnermon Buckley and Matt O’Connell (pictured left), for help. They borrowed a trailer and distributed them to social service agency food banks to help struggling families.

Cinnermon is a specialist social worker for schools and communities with the Catholic Education Office, while Matt is Earthquake Recovery Coordinator for Christchurch Diocese. Their work is supported by Caritas earthquake recovery funds.

Cinnermon and Matt’s work, using a variety of means, is getting right to the heart of earthquake affected families.

'Two years on.....and the deeper issues are only just surfacing,' they say. They are seeing more sustained problems which people have not been able to easily overcome, those which require a longer recovery or rehabilitation process. As they identify problems, they address them.

Youth housing

Over at Waipuna youth agency in Linwood, Youth Housing Coordinator Paul McMahon, has adopted a similar 'get stuck in' approach. He assists young parents in need of accommodation, most often with poor credit or a bad tenancy history. He advocates for them with Housing New Zealand, Work and Income, MP’s offices and landlords. He helps these young parents by clarifying information, and helping them through the necessary documentation.

Paul manages to locate and successfully house most of his most at-risk young clients within two months. In two most recent cases, he was able to get people into suitable accommodation within three weeks.

Paul works through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other groups to furnish house contents. The often transient population is easily tracked through mobile phone text messaging and Facebook. Paul now has an assistant send out lists of rental links via text messaging and Facebook up to four times a week, thereby taking out the sometimes stressful task of screening for his clients.

Emerging trends

Collaboration between Paul, Matt and Cinnermon is on-going, and some trends are emerging:

  • Housing problems are complex. For every family without an adequate home, there is an almost unique set of circumstances. A 30-year-old mother of three young children, for instance, has to move out of her house for it to be fixed, but because she has no insurance there is no funding to cover alternate accommodation. Another family of 13 is being housed in a three bedroom home. The children in this home have serious health problems including skin infections.  In one instance a landlord is renting a shed on the property and the family in the main house have to share the bathroom with the new tenant, a stranger. Some groups are more discriminated against than others, especially Maori, Pasifika, single parents and young people.
  • Financial struggles are increasing: more families are seeking food parcels and requesting special assistance. 'Families are proud and do not like to ask,' says Matt, 'but they have been worn out from two years of trying to make ends meet.' The hardest hit areas are Dallington, Kaiapoi, New Brighton and Aranui.
  • Behaviour issues for children and adults have continued and in some cases increased. Most common are anxiety, post-traumatic stress, sleeping problems; and, among children, wetting and soiling.
  • Relationship issues are most severe with more stress on families and the relentless uncertainty. Job losses, financial strain and relocation have negatively impacted many family relationships.

All workers agree that the people who were most vulnerable before the 2011 earthquake have been most impacted. A walk through the Eastern suburbs reveals many residential homes still boarded up, damaged or awaiting an outcome. Yet, so many individuals, families, schools and parish communities continue to support those in need in hundreds of acts of compassion. These unrecorded actors for charity and justice are the ultimate good news story of Christchurch.

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust