Asylum Seeker Project joins Lentara

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Crosslight readers raised a range of questions following last month’s article regarding the transfer of Hotham Mission ASP to Lentara UnitingCare. Joy Nunn, CEO of Lentara, responds to those questions below:

Will the Uniting Church or other congregations outside the north-west suburbs presently providing housing to asylum seekers now have to do it as individual parishes, without wider specialist agency support, as was provided by the Hotham ASP? Or has Lentara consulted with these congregations, individuals or groups presently providing housing through Hotham ASP and linked them with UnitingCare or other denominational agencies for wider support if this is seen as necessary?

Lentara UnitingCare (through the ongoing work of the Community Program Team) continues to provide support services to those people, parishes and community groups who would like to offer housing and/or financial support to the most needy asylum seekers living in our community. This support will continue to be state wide.

Should people or groups wish to provide housing and/or financial assistance to asylum seekers please contact Sarah Thompson on 9326 8343.

I have heard there have been staff redundancies at the Asylum Seeker Project, based especially upon a decision by Lentara not to re-apply for some government contracts regarding asylum seeker care.  Can Lentara explain why it has chosen not to reapply for these contracts?

Lentara UnitingCare has decided not to participate in the DIAC Community Detention tender because DIAC is seeking larger organisations with capacity to provide 24/7 services nationally.  Lentara does not have this capacity and only operates in greater metropolitan Melbourne.

As the Community Detention Programs are transitioned to other providers, Lentara will actively support staff by seeking transfer opportunities to these agencies, other UnitingCare Service providers or internally within Lentara.  Lentara will also provide career transition support to affected staff.

What specific service provision is now envisaged for the Asylum Seeker Project?

Lentara UnitingCare will continue to run the Community Program which provides housing and the Basic Living Allowance (BLA) to people seeking asylum who are not eligible for or who no longer receive government support.  The work of the Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre will also continue. Both of these programs are unfunded and rely on the generosity of donors.

How will such services relate to the Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre in Brunswick under the new ‘consolidation’?

Lentara UnitingCare’s Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre in Brunswick will continue to do its pivotal work supporting Asylum Seekers. Its core program will remain unchanged including: information services and referrals, community dinners, and computer and English classes.

Can Lentara explain more about the organisational and staff structure of this consolidation between the two entities?

The Asylum Seeker Project and Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre will be managed by one program manager and fall into a suite called the Asylum Seeker Programs.  These programs are overseen by our general manager of Community Services.

Will the ASP still be able to provide its network of housing, with associated case worker support, to destitute asylum seekers in the community, which was an integral part of the wider asylum seeker and refugee sector support system in Melbourne?

Our Community Program will continue to run as normal providing housing support and BLA.

If the housing support is to continue, Lentara’s Asylum Seeker Programs now only provide housing and associated case worker support to asylum seekers who have arrived by plane, ie with visas, but can no longer assist asylum seekers being released from detention centres?

The Community Program, which will remain unchanged, provides support to asylum seekers regardless of their mode of arrival, or whether they have been released from a detention centre.

There is some concern that an already overstretched asylum seeker support sector will be disadvantaged by these changes at the Hotham ASP , and so expected to pick up services once provided by the Hotham ASP. What does Lentara envisage will be the gaps in services to asylum seekers resulting from its apparent reorientation of services? Has Lentara been in close communication with the Refugee Advocacy Network or wider asylum seeker network agencies and groups to discuss the needs, gaps and opportunities to continue to co-operate in providing complementary services and advocacy?

The services that will no longer be provided are government funded community detention programs. These are currently out for tender and will continue to be provided beyond the end date of the contract by other agencies.  Lentara has commissioned a discussion paper regarding gaps in services and will be reviewing our capacity to address these gaps once they are clearly identified.

Is it the case that Hotham’s previous work with asylum seekers will now be more geographically limited or focused, ie to the north west suburbs, rather than providing housing through its previous network of parishes throughout the suburbs of Melbourne?

The Community Program will continue unchanged providing housing as before, through its network of parishes across Melbourne.

We will also continue to support people seeking Asylum across metropolitan Melbourne through a range of services offered across four main sites: Sunshine, Broadmeadows, Carlton and Brunswick. Support provided across other metropolitan locations is still welcomed and encouraged.

Is it envisaged that the Hotham ASP will retain an office or staff presence in North Melbourne or will these facilities now be based at Brunswick Welcome Centre or another premise of Lentara only?

The ASP relocated to Carlton earlier this year.  We have a lease until 31 December 2013.  We are currently investigating alternative location for staff working in our Carlton office.

Lentara  is part of the UnitingCare Vic/Tas network. For more information about Lentara, see its ad on page 5 or go to: www.lentarauc.org.au.

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