Gandhi Nivas remains open during lockdown

Person cryingGandhi Nivas is reporting a spike in the number of men it has counselled over the COVID-19 lockdown period.

The Auckland group, which has remained open during lockdown, offers an early intervention and prevention service to men at risk of committing further family violence.

“We usually deal with up to 15 men a week. In the first week of lockdown it was 45 and the numbers have continued at around 40 a week,” says Sucharita Varma, of Sahaayta Counselling, one of the partners in Gandhi Nivas, along with Total Healthcare, the Serenity Foundation and NZ Police.

Sucharita says restricted movement, the close confines of the domestic space and sharing that space with extended family members have been potent triggers for these men during the lockdown period. Alcohol has also fuelled domestic violence.

“These are men who find the lockdown situation too suffocating and they don’t know how to regulate their feelings ‒ they don't know how to express themselves ‒ and some of them are fathers who don’t know how to parent the children they are suddenly finding themselves confined alongside,” Sucharita says.

Recognise triggers

Gandhi Nivas’ role is to help these men cope by teaching them strategies to recognise triggers and manage their responses in a constructive way. Its approach is to work with the whole family to reduce the likelihood of the repetition of family harm and to ensure every family member feels safe.

The organisation operates three residential centres in Otahuhu, Papatoetoe and Te Atatu, with overnight accommodation for five male clients at each. The men it sees have either been issued with a Police Safety Order or have been involved in a police matter relating to family harm.

During the first two weeks of lockdown, Gandhi Nivas had to adapt its services to provide phone counselling as it was not able to take any more residents into its care centres. Instead, its team of social workers, addict practitioners and other health coordinators had to find alternative accommodation for men who needed to be removed from their family environments, sometimes for weeks or even months.

“We had to negotiate space for them in their wider family bubble or in motels or in other emergency housing. Sometimes we have had to refer the wives and partners to Women’s Refuge,” Sucharita says. 

Gandhi Nivas was established in 2014 by Total Healthcare and Serenity Foundation initially as a response to domestic abuse in the South Asian community but it quickly widened its operation to all ethnicities. To date, it has helped just over 2600 families. An evaluation of its first year by Massey University showed that 70 per cent per cent of the men it supported did not repeat their domestic abuse during that period. A longitudinal study has been completed and will be launched after the lock down.