THE Society of St Vincent de Paul has been providing specialist help for staff encountering a high level of fear and panic, an Oireachtas committee heard yesterday.
Members were under stress dealing with people in very difficult circumstances.
SVP vice-president John Monaghan told the Joint Committee on Social Protection that pressures on members had become so difficult that SVP had to organise special sessions to support them.
Unfortunately, in some cases they were coming “second-hand” to problems associated with suicide, he pointed out. “There is a huge problem out there, not just for the families we are helping but for our members as well,” he said.
The organisation, which spent around €1 million a week assisting people last year, said there had been a huge increase in calls for help this year.
Calls in Cork were up 53%; in Galway City they were up 46%; the Dublin region experienced a 37% jump while in the mid-west calls increased by 205.
The greatest number of calls for help were from people reliant on state benefits. Up to 20% of calls were from foreign nationals.
The society had expected more calls for help from people affected by the recession but believed this had not happened due to the forbearance of the banks who had been told to draw in their horns.
Mr Monaghan said about a quarter of the society’s hostel accommodation was taken up by foreign nationals. Many had no state benefits and were unable to make a financial contribution. Around half of requests for help are from lone parents, who continue to have the highest risk of poverty of any group.
Mr Monaghan said it was becoming difficult for members to spend good quality time with a family.
“In some very disadvantaged areas SVP members are asked to make up to 10 visits per night,” he said.
In many cases, members were “picking up the pieces” as a result of an under-staffed community welfare services.
Mr Monaghan also revealed schools were asking SVP for between €5,000 and €20,000 to help them run schools because they had nowhere else to go.
On a positive note, Mr Monaghan said “the trend so far this year suggests that donations to the SVP are up on last year and on 2008 as well,” he said. Website donations were up 25% on the first four months of the year, compared to the same period in 2009.
Committee chairman Charlie O’Connor said they would write to the Minister for Social Protection, Éamon Ó Cuív, asking him to reinstate the Christmas bonus and for the fuel allowance to be paid in two blocks.
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