Sunday 20 October 2019

Surge in first-time callers shows level of 'hidden poverty'

Help is at hand: Linda Kenny, team leader at the St Vincent de Paul call centre in Dublin, and volunteer Andy Russell. PHOTO: Frank McGrath
Help is at hand: Linda Kenny, team leader at the St Vincent de Paul call centre in Dublin, and volunteer Andy Russell. PHOTO: Frank McGrath
Conor McCrave

Conor McCrave

A rise in families experiencing "hidden poverty" has led to a surge of first-time callers seeking help from the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

The lead up to the festive season is the busiest time of the year for the SVP as staff and volunteers hear from anxious parents worrying how they will "afford" Christmas.

Workers at the east regional call centre - which covers Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare - heard from almost 11,000 people in the month of November alone. They say a worrying trend of first-time callers has emerged in recent months.

"I had a gentleman who was a first-time caller and he said to me business wasn't good at the moment," said Linda Murray, call centre leader.

"He was separated from his partner and had two little boys and all he wanted was gifts for his children for Christmas. Nothing for himself, just something for his kids."


While many families rely on the charity's support from year to year, the knock-on effect of the homeless crisis has seen demand rocket.

"You'd be amazed to see how many people contacted us for the first time in November alone. We had 363 first-timers and that is quite high," said Ms Murray. "The main reasons would be people looking for housing supports, low-income earners and then people with health issues.

"There has been an increase in people moving out of homelessness and into housing but then they have nothing to move into the house with, so they come to us."

Almost half of the 11,000 calls received last month related to Christmas and, in particular, fears from single parents worried about putting a turkey on the table and presents under the tree.

Nationally, the society expects more than 24,000 calls relating to post-Christmas fears.

"Another first-time caller said, 'I don't know how to start this but I can't go through this Christmas like last Christmas'," said Ms Murray.

"She said for Christmas dinner last year, she and her daughter had a box of Roses and two bags of popcorn. People don't realise the hidden poverty."

Other issues that were raised in recent weeks included the cost of funerals from families who lost a loved one, elderly people worried about health bills, and families worried about winter heating bills.

"We had 16 calls in relation to funeral costs in November, for example, so there are so many things people just need help with.

"With all the calls out there we're just really trying to get the message out there that people can ring us when they need us," she added.

Volunteer Andy Russell said single parents and couples with young children accounted for the vast majority of calls at this time of the year, concerned about housing.

"The biggest problem for me is that someone is going to be made homeless," he said. "The landlord is selling the property and they've been renting for two or three years and suddenly they're going to be made homeless in a month.

"That is very difficult to deal with and people are ringing us as a last resort."

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Irish Independent

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