RECORD numbers of women and children are seeking refuge at Kilkenny's Amber Refuge according to manager, Tina Sullivan with a significant increase in the number using the refuge over Christmas week.
The refuge manager told the Kilkenny People that the situation was the worst she had seen since she took up her post five years ago.
"There is a real desperation among many people and I am not being alarmist in saying that. There are people using our refuge, some of whom are entitled to no social welfare and are entirely dependant on the generosity of others," she said.
Christmas at Amber
Nine women and 15 children stayed at the refuge over the festive period.
"There has been a significant increase in the number of users over recent months and this was especially noticeable in the period from Christmas Eve to New Year's Eve. The state of the economy is affecting a lot of people and they don't have the coping mechanisms that they may have previously had. Where before some people felt they were able to remain in the family home and use the refuge's services many now feel they have no option but to seek actual refuge in the centre," she said.
"Money is a big problem for a lot of people and they are finding themselves under huge pressure. In the last eight months we have seen a huge increase in people seeking help," she added.
Increase in non nationals
According to Ms Sullivan numbers of non nationals seeking help has spiralled in recent times with lack of food being a real concern for some families.
"The number of non nationals seeking our services has increased by around 30% over the past month. There are a lot of people who were in low paid jobs and now find themselves with no work. Some of these families are not entitled to claim social welfare and are expected to return to their native countries which is not a realistic option for everyone.
Over the festive season the refuge was filled to capacity but as a result of the tireless efforts of staff and the outpouring of generosity from the public the spirit of Christmas remained alive. "We had a very busy house this Christmas with Santa visiting ten children on Christmas morning," said Ms Sullivan said.
Staff worked hard to create a festive atmosphere at the refuge. "Santa came to everyone and all the children were delighted with their toys. Lots of people came to the refuge with donations of food and toys and we really appreciate their kindness, especially this year when things are tough for a lot of people. It is the generosity of the local community that ensures that we are able to provide this service and keep it up and running," she said.
"Overall this year has been far busier for us when compared to previous years. Rooms have been closed during the year as part of a refurbishment of the refuge and this has added to it. On a few occasions we have had to turn people away but when this happens we always try to redirect them to another refuge and find them a room there," she said.
"Before we would have been able to refer our clients to other refuges in the I where now we are referring people all over the country to allow them to access the services that they need.
Amber can house up to 30 people, including seven adults and 23 children, at any one time. The refuge provides a haven for women and children affected by domestic violence or homelessness