Minister launches July edition of Parity magazine at Uniting

Minister launches July edition of Parity magazine at Uniting ahead of Homelessness Week.

The confronting issue of pregnancy and homelessness was the focus at the launch of the Homelessness Week edition of the Council to Homeless Persons Parity magazine hosted by Uniting Vic.Tas in Melbourne last week. 

Following a welcome from Uniting General Manager Housing and Property, Kristie Looney, Victorian Minister for Women, Hon. Natalie Hutchins officially launched the edition, recounting her own story about growing up in social housing. 

“I’m the daughter of a young woman of 17 who found herself pregnant and we lived in high-rise public housing for the first five years of my life,” Ms Hutchins said. 

“Mum wanted to get out of that situation and by the time I turned 18 we had moved house 20 times.  

“I know what it is like to have to pack up a house at five minutes to midnight because we were behind in the rent, or they gave us very short notice.” 

The launch was attended by representatives from Uniting, along with partners from across the sector including Council to Homeless Persons, Launch Housing and Housing First.   

There was also a panel discussion discussing the impact of pregnancy and homelessness on both women, their children and their families.  

Ms Looney recounted a particular story involving a young woman who fell pregnant in high school. 

“She was very young, her son was born with a disability, and she was told he wouldn’t walk or talk,” Ms Looney said. 

“She was young, she was single and applying for rental properties and couldn’t get a look in, so she found herself homeless.  

“Then, one day her life changed. She was given the opportunity to rent a property through a social housing provider. Rent was affordable, the home was long term and it meant she could really focus on the important things in life. 

“Things like finishing Year 12, getting a Uni degree, and being a Mum helping her son doing therapy so he could have best chance in life. She was able to get a part-time job, so her income changed, and she was able to build confidence. 

“This story is a true story – it’s my story. It’s why I’m here today, why I work in this sector and it’s what motivates me every day.” 

Uniting’s Rose McGowan Manager Curran Place, Mother and Baby Residential Withdrawal Service joined a panel discussion around exploring the extent, nature and impact of homelessness on pregnancy outcomes for mother and infant.  

Two articles in this edition have been authored by our Uniting colleagues – Kristie Looney, General Manager of Housing and Property contributed an opinion piece and Rose McCrohan from Uniting AOD wrote a piece in collaboration with Sally Coutts and Kerri Felemonow from The Women’s Hospital about the work we do to support pregnant women and new mums experiencing AOD-related harm and homelessness.  

Read the full edition of Parity 

 

 

Uniting Vic.Tas opens new Gippsland youth alcohol and drug treatment facility

A new 20-bed youth residential rehabilitation facility in Traralgon operated by Uniting Vic.Tas was officially opened today by the Victorian Health Minister, Martin Foley.

The purpose-built facility provides a structured live-in residential setting where young people aged 16 to 25 years are supported to address their alcohol and drug-related issues.

Minister Foley was joined at the opening by Uniting Vic.Tas Executive General Manager Silvia Alberti and the Victorian Health Building Authority CEO Robert Fiske.

Ms Alberti said the centre was the result of a partnership between Uniting Vic.Tas, the Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-operative and the Victorian Government and would address a long-standing need in the region.

“We know there is a real need for alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs in Gippsland and we believe this facility will make a real difference and help many young people to get their lives back on track,” she said.

“As well as a live-in program with around-the-clock clinical care, the treatment includes activities that support lasting behavioural change including social and life skills development, relapse prevention, individual counselling and group work.

“What sets our program apart is on top of the three months rehabilitation, we also provide a one-month transition where young people can return home and resume work or study while continuing to receive support.

“We also have an outreach service where young people are allocated a dedicated case worker who provides pre-admission support including home visits and regularly check-ins on their wellbeing.”

One of the first young people to complete the program was 19-year-old Alex* from Bright who arrived seeking treatment for both alcohol and substance use.

“This program saved my life,” Alex said.

“I tried multiple detox programs and hospital admissions and nothing worked. I really needed a place where the main purpose was helping with addiction. I was needing something long term, away from home to gather myself and learn about myself and being in a safe space.”

This is the longest time Alex has been substance free since he was 14 years-old. He is now looking to support others going through the program and wants to work in the alcohol and drug treatment field in the future.

*The name of the person featured in this story has been changed to protect their identity.

Natalie’s story

Natalie has been supporting vulnerable children and families as part of the Family Preservation and Reunification Response Program (FPR&R) program for two years.

Natalie finds her role at Uniting working alongside a highly motivated, knowledgeable and professional team rewarding and fulfilling.

The Family Preservation and Reunification Response Program aims to promote strong and self-sufficient families by supporting parents and caregivers to create a safe and nurturing home environment. As Practitioners we provide responsive, intensive and sustainable support to children and families where children are at imminent risk of entry to care or where safe reunification back into the family home is appropriate.

“There is a strong sense of shared commitment to achieving our service goals in the Family Preservation and Reunification Response Program and across Uniting as a whole” she says.

“The management are great to work with, collaborate and reflective about the best way to respond to the needs of employees and consumers as they arrive.”

“I love working as a Practitioner in the Response program, my team are amazing and feel like Uniting makes a difference in so many people’s lives, including my own”.

“Because the community services sector is very dynamic, there is always growth and opportunity for development.”

“Uniting has always recruited talented people and they invest in our staff, provide training opportunities for development,” she says.

“And we offer a family friendly environment, flexible working conditions, to help suit the needs of families.”

Learn more about working at Uniting.

Budget just a ‘band-aid’ for our most vulnerable

The quick fixes in the Federal Budget will do little to ease poverty and disadvantage, according to one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community services providers, Uniting Vic.Tas.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the temporary cut to the fuel excise and the one-off $250 cash payment for low-income earners would do little to ease the strain on household budgets.

“A one-off payment to a select group of low-income earners won’t address the ongoing financial hardship and poverty facing so many households,” Ms Pike said.

“We were hoping the Budget would finally raise income support payments to a rate which affords people a basic standard of living.

“Wages are stagnant, but the cost of living is rising all the time, so we needed to see more than just band-aid solutions.

“Every day, families have to make impossible choices between paying the rent, paying the electricity or gas bill or putting food on the table. These are families living day to day, week to week.”

Ms Pike said the Budget also failed to include any investment in social housing.

“Housing affordability is a national crisis,” Ms Pike said.

“It’s disappointing there was no funding for social housing or moves to make housing more affordable.

“We’ve seen state governments in both Victoria and Tasmania invest heavily in social housing – it’s time the Federal Government contributed its fair share.”

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes a $240 million commitment to extend the Escaping Violence Payment for a further three years. This nationwide program – led by Uniting Vic.Tas – provides financial assistance to support people to escape family violence.

“The Escaping Family Violence payment is helping people across Australia to lead safer lives, free of violence,” Ms Pike said.

“As the provider for Lifeline services in Melbourne and Ballarat, we’re pleased with the additional funding for suicide prevention, including for Lifeline. This is an important acknowledgement of the huge growth in demand for mental health services – particularly since the start of the pandemic.”

Uniting welcomes Victorian social housing reforms.

Uniting Vic.Tas and Uniting Housing Victoria have welcomed the social housing reforms announced by the Victorian Government.

Uniting Vic.Tas in partnership with Uniting Housing Victoria operate and support more than 870 social housing tenancies across the state.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike:

“This is courageous and bold leadership, which will allow housing providers like ourselves to provide more housing for the most vulnerable Victorians,” Ms Pike said.

“We believe affordable, safe and secure housing for everybody is an essential human right.

“We know how much of a difference having a home has on every aspect of a person’s life, particularly for people in crisis. This announcement will help us put and keep a roof over the head of many thousands of vulnerable Victorians, right across our state.”

Uniting Vic.Tas General Manager Housing and Property Kristie Looney:

These are groundbreaking reforms which not only ensures funding certainty but will allow us to deliver more housing for the communities and the people most in need,” Ms Looney said.

There’s clear evidence that it’s only after securing safe and permanent housing that people in crisis are able deal with other important needs, such as finding a job or seeking help for mental health issues.

“The savings that will be achieved through the rates exemption will allow providers like ourselves to direct more money into new social housing as well as the maintenance of existing properties.”

Proposed Religious Discrimination Bill must be rejected

Uniting Vic.Tas is calling on the Federal Government to immediately scrap its proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.

At Uniting Vic.Tas, we’re proud to stand side-by-side with all people, regardless of their faith, sexuality or gender.

We share the concerns of our overarching body, the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), which in its submission to the Government, expressed concern the Bill, ’fails to strike the correct balance between people’s rights, protections and responsibilities.’

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the proposed Bill would allow people and organisations, including schools, to use faith to discriminate against others.

“This is an anti-discrimination bill which actually enshrines the right to discriminate,” Ms Pike said.

“Religious freedom must always be balanced against basic human rights. We must protect the rights of people to feel safe and express who they are without fear of being shamed, ridiculed, or excluded.

“Allowing people of faith to discriminate against people of a different faith or on the basis of their sexuality, gender, marital status or disability is completely against what we stand for.”

“We believe this Bill will likely cause further harm and distress to many people already feeling marginalised and facing social exclusion.

“We urge the Government to legislate to protect religious freedom without removing protections from those who need it. Our laws should protect all of us, equally.

“Religious organisations such as ours have demonstrated that it is possible to uphold religious faith, while respecting diversity.

“There are no grounds on which religion can be a justification for causing harm to others. This Bill goes too far and must be withdrawn immediately.”

One small act of kindness can make a big difference this Christmas

We’ve all felt the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while it has been a challenging 18 months for many, it is important to reflect on the positives.

These trying times have also brought out the best in people. People like Jodie.

Jodie has volunteered at our NoBucks community meals service in Hobart for over 2 years.

“A friend suggested I go to NoBucks for a meal one day. I was home alone throughout the day and feeling a bit lonely,” says Jodie.

“One of the volunteers suggested I should look into volunteering, so I did.”

Jodie started helping in the kitchen twice a week.

When the pandemic hit, Jodie gave even more. She volunteered most weekdays during the height of COVID-19 restrictions in Tasmania to “make sure people were still being fed” during the difficult time.

But like so many of the people Jodie serves at NoBucks, she also endures daily struggles. Life hasn’t been easy for the 51-year-old.

Jodie lives with an acquired brain injury that causes severe and ongoing short-term memory loss. Jodie is often unable to remember what she heard, saw or did only minutes earlier.

As a baby, Jodie was adopted out by her birth mother.

She spent nearly 11 years with her adopted family before the relationship broke down and she was placed into foster care when she was 12-years-old.

“My foster family were lovely. I was the only foster child, so my foster parents showered me with attention,” says Jodie

It was this attention that one day took a sinister turn for Jodie.

When one of the foster family’s children took exception to the attention Jodie was receiving, he made a near-fatal decision to inject Jodie with insulin, causing severe hypoglycemia.

The overdose left Jodie in a coma for 6 months.

When Jodie awoke from the coma, she says “it was like my memory had been erased.”

Jodie spent over a year in hospital learning to walk, talk, eat and go to the toilet again.

“I don’t remember a lot about my recovery. But I know it was long and difficult.

“And I remember getting frustrated sometimes. It’s probably a good thing I don’t remember much.”

Jodie returned to live with her adopted family after she was discharged from hospital.

Unable to work and on a disability pension, Jodie started volunteering her time and joined the local Scout group.

It was there that she met her husband Randall.

“He has been a great strength to me over the years,” says Jodie.

“I know it can be hard on him at times, supporting the kids and me.”

With 3 children and a mortgage to pay, money is tight sometimes.

When Randall received a small pay rise last year, Jodie’s disability pension was cut off and the family’s finances became more strained.

“We used my disability pension to put money away for Christmas and birthday presents for the kids and to buy them clothes during the year,” says Jodie.

“With 3 growing children to feed and a mortgage to pay, we don’t have a lot of money left over after we buy the essentials.”

Leading up to Christmas last year, Jodie was heartbroken when the children asked for bikes.

“We just couldn’t afford it. I’d bought clothes for each of the kids as their present.

“We’ve always made sure the kids have food on the table and clean clothes on their backs.”

To help Jodie, who has given so much to her community through her volunteering and Scouting roles, the Uniting team in Hobart stepped in to buy bikes for the children.

“It meant the world to us,” says Jodie.

“It was so kind. And it’s been a big help. Rohan rides his bike to college each day and Cailean will do the same when he goes to college next year.”

The team at NoBucks are now looking to hire Jodie as a supported employee.

“It’s good to feel valued and to be doing something I really enjoy,” says Jodie.

“I just hope I’m making a difference for people.

“My life hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve managed. And I know there are people out there worse off than I am.”

You can support people across Victoria and Tasmania doing it tough this Christmas.

Donate now.

 

Fighting poverty together

We’re joining forces with individuals and organisations across the country to take action this Anti-Poverty Week.

Anti-Poverty Week, 17 – 23 October 2021, helps the Australian community gain a better understanding of poverty and how we can work together to end it.

Here at Uniting, we work across a range of community services, intervening early to help people avoid crisis, as well as supporting those who live life at the margins.

For the second year running, Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike is the Victorian Co-Chair of Anti-Poverty Week.

As part of our work to help end poverty, we recently partnered with the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University to look at what the end of COVID-19 income and tenancy benefits has meant for the people that received them.

This research is called: No fighting chance. Impact of the withdrawal of COVID-19 income and tenancy benefits. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Australia united to ensure that our most vulnerable did not suffer.

In April last year, the Federal Government introduced a $550 per fortnight Coronavirus Supplement for people on JobSeeker payments, along with the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme for employed people.

At the same time, the Victorian Government instituted a moratorium on evictions, suspended private rental increases and provided private rent relief for renters and landlords impacted by the pandemic.

However, these measures were time-limited.

The Coronavirus Supplement was gradually cut back and finally replaced in April 2021 with a $50 increase in the permanent rate of JobSeeker.

All tenancy payments and benefits in Victoria were withdrawn by the end of March 2021.

Since this time Australia, particularly Victoria, has faced further waves of COVID-19 lockdown measures, largely without these levels of income and tenancy support being reinstated.

“In April this year, I noted that the cut to the JobSeeker payment will force more people into poverty and place even greater pressure on emergency relief services,” says Bronwyn.

“Sadly, our research validates this.

“In Victoria alone, 648,000 adults and children struggle to survive on income payments that are below the poverty line.

“That’s nearly 1 in 10 people living in Victoria, including 1 in 5 children who are growing up in the poorest families.

“Many are at risk of homelessness due to a shortage of affordable housing.

“The JobSeeker and parenting payments are not a handout. They’re about giving people a basic standard of living while they get back on their feet.”

The research finds that to end poverty we must:

  • Introduce a permanent increase in JobSeeker and Parenting Payment rates to ensure that the income support system provides an adequate safety net for individuals and families that rely on them
  • Benchmark Jobseeker to wages to reduce income inequality and give people a fighting chance in an increasingly competitive housing and employment market
  • Increase the amount of Rent Assistance provided to ensure that everyone has access to adequate rental support
  • Increase investment in social housing to improve the supply of safe, secure and affordable homes.

This Anti-Poverty Week, we’re joining forces with the Everybody’s Home and Raise the Rate for Good campaigns.

We’re calling on the Federal Government to increase Jobseeker and other income support payments and invest in social housing so that everyone can cover the basics and keep a roof over their head.

We’re making our voice heard and you can too.

By visiting Everybodys Home and signing the petition to the Federal Treasurer, you can stand up and demand more be done.

By coming together, we can all work to end poverty.

Here, some of the people who have reached out to us for support share their story.

Aylin’s story

Kerry’s story

 

Australian leadership on the situation in Afghanistan

We stand side-by-side with our consumers and a wide range of organisations, businesses and community groups across Australia in calling upon the Government to take seven urgent and practical steps in response to this humanitarian disaster:  

Do everything possible in continuing to evacuate people who are at grave risk within Afghanistan, including those who have worked for or assisted the Australian Government and Australian organisations (including the embassy, armed forces, NGOs and media), human rights defenders and women and girls whose lives and security are under great threat.  

Urge governments in the region to keep borders open for people trying to flee persecution in Afghanistan, particularly Pakistan and Iran. 

Offer additional refugee resettlement places for Afghan refugees immediately, as the Australian Government did in 2015 with 12,000 additional places for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Canada has already announced its commitment of 20,000 additional places for Afghan refugees. Australia could match this offer and urge other resettlement states to do the same, sending a strong and positive message to states receiving Afghan refugees that the world is ready to share responsibility in the protection of lives at risk. 

As many people are now at risk from hunger and lack of shelter due to their forced displacement, immediately increase Australian aid to the region to support programs to assist people who have been displaced across borders and, wherever possible, support organisations still offering assistance within Afghanistan.   

We welcomethe extension of temporary visas of all Afghan citizens in Australia announced by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on 17 August. A vital next step is to ensure that people whose asylum claims have been previously rejected be supported to submit new claims in light of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan.

Extend permanent protection to 4300 Afghans on temporary protection visas, recognising that members of this group are unlikely to be able to return in safety for many years to come and need the assurance that they can continue to live in Australia without the constant fear of forced return.  

Assist Afghan Australians, including people with temporary and permanent protection visas, with urgent family reunion applications for relatives who are at particular risk, as members of minorities targeted by the Taliban or people likely to be targeted because of their connections to western nations. This should include giving priority to finalising family reunion applications which have previously been lodged but are waiting on a decision from the Department of Home Affairs.  

We urge the government to stand with our communities and take immediate action on these matters.  

Read the full letter here 

  

Palm Sunday 2021

Joint Statement of Uniting Vic Tas and the Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

We stand together in solidarity with refugees, people seeking asylum and their supporters across Australia to call out the injustices of Australia’s current immigration policies.

The Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania and Uniting Vic.Tas, its community services organisation, uphold the Christian teachings that encourage us to provide care and comfort to people seeking exile; treating them as equals and defending them against oppression and persecution. We support the creation of fair and efficient asylum processes underpinned by international human rights principles.

We have a long history of engagement with new arrivals to Australia and advocate for better treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum. Our services assist many people seeking asylum in our community, some of whom have been waiting for many years for their applications to be resolved.

This Palm Sunday (28 March), we re-affirm our commitment to people who have been forced to flee war, violence and persecution. We recognise their courage, resilience and strength in facing the worst of humanity.

Fundamentally, we call for compassion, dignity and respect in how we treat people seeking our protection. Every life should be valued. Every person, no matter where they came from or how they arrived in Australia, deserves safety and security and to be able to fulfil the hope of a decent life for themselves and their family.

The Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees is an important opportunity to raise awareness of the continuing hardship experienced by refugees and people who are seeking asylum.

Starting in the 1980s, churches across Australia have joined together on Palm Sunday in capital cities across the country to march together for peace. This rally has gone on to become an annual ecumenical event that draws people from many faith and non-faith backgrounds to march together to show support for public policy issues that are of importance to them.

As part of this year’s Walk for Justice for Refugees, we’re calling on the Australian Government to immediately address a number of issues which we believe are crucial to improving the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in this country including:

  • Introducing permanent visas for all refugees
  • Basic income support for people in the community while their refugee status is assessed
  • Releasing all refugees from detention
  • An end to offshore processing

In Melbourne, the march will start at 1.30pm at the State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanson Street, Melbourne

Tackling Victoria’s children in out-of-home care crisis

The best answer to Victoria’s child protection crisis is early support for families.

Early intervention to help keep families with children together in Victoria will help stem the rising numbers of children in out-of-home care which has doubled in the past decade. This is the message from Uniting Vic.Tas Executive General Manager Operations Silvia Alberti in a column for this month’s Parity magazine.

“Children do not want to be removed from their family, but they want and need to be safe, cared for, and supported. Parents want to be able to care for their children and give them what they need but some parents need support to be able to do this.”

“There have been many reports on the child and family services systems…Behind every number quoted, every statistic mentioned in these reports, is a child. Behind them, a family. Every single one who matters, who is important and deserving of more care and the opportunity to thrive.

“In other Australian states and internationally, funding family services to support parents intensively and early when they most need help has made the most significant difference in reducing the number of children that are removed and placed in out-of-home care.”

Read more from Silvia

 

Not your average childhood: Growing up in out-of-home care

In a column for this month’s Parity magazine, Barry* who has been in out-of-home care since 2018 bravely told his story to us and shared his experiences within Victoria’s child protection system.

“My family is as dysfunctional as the Gallagher’s from (the TV program) Shameless, but that doesn’t mean I want to forget my roots. Family remains family. My experiences have meant that neither of my parents were able to be responsible for me.”

“When (I was told) I was going to a residential care unit…I tried everything not to go (but) residential care has and always will be a big part of my life. It’s been crucial to my development (and) has made me the person I am today.

“(Residential care) has given me a temporary family (but) when the day comes that I move on, I don’t think I’ll be ready for it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to be alone. It’s going to be a really hard day.”

Read more from Barry

 

Helping children with their transition into adulthood will change lives

Uniting Vic.Tas Manager Therapeutic Services Residential Care, Adela Homes, who has worked in child protection for almost five decades, says extending the age young people can remain in out-of-home care from 18 to 21 as part of the Home Stretch program and supporting their transition into adulthood will change lives.

“To achieve positive outcomes for young people, they must first be ready to be independent. They must have had an opportunity to trust safely, to live in a stable environment, heal past trauma, and understand what it means to co-exist with others. Unfortunately for young people in out-of-home care, this is rarely their experience.

“We have known for the past 25 years that adverse childhood experiences constitute a type of complex trauma and that the neurobiological impacts arising from experiences of abuse and extreme neglect cause persistent neurobiological, physiological, and psychological impacts.”

“Beginning with early intervention with at-risk families and cascading through out‑of‑home care, family reunification and leaving care, the care journey must reflect and respond to the individual needs of each young person.”

Read more from Adela