Fears over festive fallout

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Christmas will take its toll, warn Queenstown’s community helpers.

Wakatipu community support groups are bracing themselves for a “hectic” start to the New Year as the economic downturn starts to bite hard.

Workers at the Salvation Army and Queenstown drop-in centre Happiness House expect a surge in people seeking help when bills from the festive period start dropping through letterboxes in early 2009.

Salvation Army leader Kenneth Walker says in­­creased numbers of locals will face difficulties.

“It seems to be a general trend that more people are coming forward and saying they’re struggling at the moment,” he explains.

“We know from our figures that November this year was twice as busy as 2007 and we’re hearing a lot of talk about redundancies and less employment around.”

Walker adds: “With the financial crisis taking its toll, I wouldn’t be surprised if February and March become pretty hectic months for us because that’s when the financial pressure starts to hit home and Christmas spending has to be paid for.

“No one likes being in that situation and most want to get out of it as quickly as possible.”

Support centre Happiness House has already distributed almost double the number of charitable Christ­mas hampers to needy local families than it did last year.

And boss Nicki Smith also expects an upturn in calls from those facing further tough times.

“The period after Christ­mas can be even more stressful for people,” she says.

“They have bought things on hire purchase and on credit cards and worry about how they are going to pay them.”
But the drop-in centre boss emphasises it’s not just the cash-strapped who are suffering – other worries are piling up too.

“We’ve had an average of 650 people a month coming in this year and figures have been increasing,” she says.

“It’s been a hard year for a lot of people.

“But they don’t come to us just because they have no money. They might just be having a hard time of it or be new to the area and feel isolated, lonely or sad.”

Smith adds: “Other places tend to view [Queenstown] as a rich playground and problem-free town but it’s not like that, as people who live here know.

“But we’re lucky to have a fantastic community spirit in Queenstown.”