Port Stephens could be on the precipice of a devastating period for domestic and family violence, elder abuse, mental illness, homelessness and financial strain if more isn’t done to soften the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession.
That’s the fear held by Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, who along with the Port Stephens Examiner, is urging people to seek help before it is too late by way of a Reach Out and Reconnect campaign.
As previously reported by the Examiner, recent figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research showed reports of domestic violence assaults surged by 59.6 per cent in Raymond Terrace in the 12 months to June 2020.
The rise, is believed to be in part, due to the restrictions, hardship and isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic which has Ms Washington pleading with Port Stephens residents to seek assistance in the lead up to Christmas.
“People are going to be needing support that have never needed support before,” Ms Washington said.
“That’s what I think the goal is, to try and connect people to services that they may not know exist because they’ve never had to use them before.”
In the coming weeks, the Examiner will be highlighting many of the services available across Port Stephens that offer support in times of hardship.
The services will cover counselling, housing, emergency financial assistance, welfare, mental health and legal support for elder abuse and family and domestic violence.
Ms Washington said that Christmas time, a traditionally stressful period where spikes in family and domestic violence were often recorded, posed a particular concern.
“We’ve already got higher unemployment and with that we’ve got increased financial stress and reports from service providers that I’ve been meeting with say that will [lead to an] increase in mental health issues, an increase in alcohol abuse, an increase in domestic violence and an increase in elder abuse,” Ms Washington said.
“We know that in a ‘normal’ Christmas, stresses increase and this year is going to be really hard.”
Ms Washington said that one of her biggest concerns centred around housing and emergency accommodation.
“[Social housing providers] Hume and Compass have been doing a wonderful job but we know there isn’t enough social housing in the first place,” she said.
It is a concern shared by Ann Fletcher, team leader for Early Intervention and Homelessness Program at the Raymond Terrace-based Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services who previously told the Examinerthat ‘accessing secure homes and family sharing had also become a juggle due to COVID physical distancing protocols.’
“It is critical that any victims, often women and children, fearing for their safety should immediately contact police. Our service is available to support victims seeking to escape violent relationships or end up homeless,” Ms Fletcher said in September.
Ms Washington said that the first step was to check on one another.
“We know we don’t have enough housing but we have to work with what we’ve got and as a community work together to reach out,” she said.
For domestic violence help phone 1800Respect (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, phone Triple Zero (000) immediately.