Feeling the chill at wintertime

A graphic that says "Samaritans blog read the latest"

A word from our Acting CEO, Brad Webb:

There is no doubt that people sleeping rough or in inadequate or unstable housing suffer through the bitterness of winter weather. There is an urgent need to address the lack of affordable and appropriate housing in this country and Samaritans is a vocal supporter of the Everybody’s Home campaign.

But the other group of people who struggle invisibly during the winter months are those who do have a home but are unable to afford to heat it.

I recently read an article that claimed almost 300,000 Australians were living without power at some stage last year because they couldn’t afford their electricity bills.

I haven’t been able to verify the numbers in that article, but I did ask our teams for a first-hand account of their experience. Samaritans runs 9 Emergency Relief centres throughout the Central Coast, Newcastle, Hunter and Mid North Coast regions of NSW.

These centres see upwards of 1100 people and families a month who are unable to make ends meet and have to decide whether to turn the heater on or to eat. This is a shocking choice for any person to have to make, and our centres are able to help in a small way by assisting with emergency food and utility bill assistance, among other services.

The cost of electricity is an ongoing struggle for the people we meet every day, and the numbers suggest there are many others around Australia who are in the same situation.

The high cost of living and a lack of adequate income are the main contributors to someone being unable to heat their home. The latest Economic and Social Impact survey from The Salvation Army released in May reported that for low income earners like those on Newstart, there is only $17 a day leftover after paying rent, and this must cover all other essentials such as food, bills, transport and health. It’s no surprise that people are having to make the choice of eating a meal or heating their home.

Samaritans also runs a support program for tenants living in public housing in Newcastle. Coordinator of the program, Rachelle, shared some of her observations of what happens during winter for the people she supports.

“Our tenants sometimes buy cheap heaters or oil heaters, and many have no heaters at all. One of main issues people have in our tenant groups is that the cost of electricity keeps going up and it’s making things harder and harder. If any of the tenants have air conditioners – very few do as it requires permission to install – they don’t want to run it all the time because of the cost. Often when I go into people’s properties, the houses are very cold. One of the elderly ladies in my tenant group was recently given multiple blankets and a pair of slippers from her family because they visited and noticed how cold it was in her home.” – Rachelle, Samaritans Tenancy Participation Resource Service

Warm, safe shelter and food to eat are basic human rights. In a country that has so much wealth like Australia, there is no reason for people to be faced with having to choose between the two.

As Samaritans continues to do what we can to support people who are doing it tough, we will be holding a collection at Westfield Kotara this Thursday and Friday as part of our Winter Appeal. We will be collecting emergency supplies such as non-perishable food, toiletries and baby needs for local families in need this winter. More information can be found on the Samaritans Facebook page. We gratefully accept food donations in all of our regions (see the Emergency Relief page on our website) or you can donate money to our Winter Appeal here.