Sharing the burden this winter

Share Appeal
By Nigel Tapp

Harrison UnitingCare faces the very real prospect of walking away from offering an emergency relief support service in Knox in the wake of a Federal Government grant funding cut which amounts to about $1000 a week.

The agency’s general manager of homelessness services, Mark Dixon, said the loss of funding – representing about 50 per cent of its emergency relief dollars – would severely deplete the relief offering unless there was significant support from the Share Appeal.

Mr Dixon said emergency relief was under review because the agency just did not want to provide a token service which would do little for either clients or volunteer staff.

His comments come as Share launches its annual winter appeal with emergency relief funding support a key target, according to Share’s Director of Operations and Development Angela Goodwin.

“Donations to Share have never mattered more,” Angela said.

“Without our support there are emergency relief programs that will have to close their doors.

“The Winter Appeal gives people the opportunity to help ensure this doesn’t have to happen and it means individuals and families in crisis will have somewhere to turn to for help.”

As it stands at the moment, Mr Dixon said the service offered would be dependent on donated food, which varied from day to day each week.

The idea of being forced to turn people away with minimal or no assistance was not something he wanted to foister onto the agency’s volunteers.

“They do this work with a real passion…It would rip them apart to have to turn people away,” he said.

“And that will make it hard for us to keep them inspired.

“That leads to the question – if we cannot assist in a meaningful way do we bother to offer assistance?”

Mr Dixon said the funding allowed the agency to plan its activities over the year, as when donations of food were low it could be supplemented by purchased food vouchers.

While emergency relief is not Harrison’s mainstay service, Mr Dixon said it is a conduit to get people through the door who actually need housing assistance. This initial meeting allows the agency to work with clients before they reach crisis point.

“In our region alone each week hundreds of families and single people on limited incomes have to choose between paying their rent, paying their utilities bills or buying food.”

Mr Dixon said he was also concerned at how the small number of remaining agencies still with relief funding in the area would manage with less dollars but an increased client pool because other services had not been funded.

UnitingCare Harrison is not the only agency desperate for good news from the Share Appeal.

Melbourne’s outer eastern and western regions take in Wesley Mission Victoria’s services at Ringwood and Footscray, which have seen a cut of $43,500 a year, or about 16 per cent.

On top of that almost half the services which existed in the area prior to March this year have not been funded, which will put even more pressure on the remaining agencies.

It is something Janene Evans – Wesley’s crisis and homeless services’ manager – knows is coming, with figures already showing more people are presenting for assistance at both Ringwood and Footscray.

On average staff at Ringwood would see a new face about every ten minutes from 9 am until 4 pm on week days, with demand increasing by about 130 per cent since the 2012-13 financial year. Footscray operates three days a week and staff are extremely busy.

How much the demand will grow over winter – with the cut in funded services and growing demand – is anyone’s guess.

What Janene does know is that there will be very few food vouchers handed out, with the agency relying more on food which comes in through its annual Food for Families appeal.

While any food is better than no food Janene understands that the donated food does come with some limitations.

“The food, generally, does not include things such as fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products or meat,” she said.

Reduced funding will also have a knock-on effect in terms of how often Wesley can support clients. When there were 13 agencies in the area the burden could be shared much more easily. Now with seven agencies and less funding clients are likely to be coming through the door at Ringwood more frequently.

Whereas once Wesley would assist a client and perhaps not seem them again for months, now they are seeing repeat visitors.

To help meet the extra demand Wesley has applied for $100,000 in funding from Share for emergency relief, half of which would be earmarked for back-to-school assistance for disadvantaged children.

Last year Wesley received $40,000 for emergency relief across its crisis and homelessness services.

Agencies have requested more than $880,000 in emergency relief funding from Share this year, which is double the amount distributed last year. Angela said with about 16,000 Uniting Church members in Victoria and Tasmania it would take just $50 from everyone to be able to meet these urgent requests.

“We are asking all members to give as generously as they can this year,” Angela said.

You can make a donation to the Share Winter Appeal here. 

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