Mothers and children given the chance to thrive in safe supported housing.

Launch Housing in partnership with Uniting, donors and the Victorian Government is preparing to open the doors of Viv’s Place, an Australian first apartment building for at-risk women and children.

Based in Dandenong, Viv’s Place will provide permanent housing with wrap around support services in a new building to provide a fresh start for more than 60 women and 140 children escaping family violence and homelessness.

The Victorian Housing Minister, Richard Wynne, the Victorian Minister for Women and the Prevention of Family Violence, Gabrielle Williams and the Federal Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Jason Clare visited the apartments on Friday.

The project is based on a highly successful model in Broadway, New York which has created supportive communities in such apartment blocks for more than 30 years and supported thousands of people out of homelessness by giving them a solid base and other help.

Access to housing and supports will allow women to find stability and foster a healthy family environment, creating new futures for children, who will be supported to stay in school and to reach their full potential.

The building includes 60 dual key apartments along with communal kitchen and living spaces, children’s play spaces, offices, community gardens and family and child specific services on site.

This Australian first project has been supported by the Victorian Government and generous philanthropic, community and individual donors and is recognised as an innovative and holistic approach to addressing two of the biggest issues facing Australian society.

The total cost of the Launch Housing project is $30 million, of which the Victorian Government contributed 40 per cent. Initially anchored by significant donations from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and the Shine On Foundation, the project subsequently received generous support from the Gandel Foundation, the Ian Potter Foundation and many passionate and generous individuals and families, including the Friday family of Melbourne – to make this dream a reality.

Support projects like this by making a donation now.

Pictured:
Victorian Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, Gabrielle Williams,
Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike
Launch Housing CEO Bevan Warner
Victorian Minister for Housing, Richard Wynne
Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Jason Clare

Working for Uniting

For 25 years, Kate Janetzki enjoyed her career in the travel industry.

When COVID-19 hit and the travel industry was turned upside down, her employer was forced to close the office.

After a few temporary jobs, Kate came across an opportunity to join Uniting in Wimmera as the co-ordinator of a program called Strengthening Parent Support.

Kate now runs groups for parents and carers of children living with a disability or additional needs.

The group provides respite for parents and carers, along with the opportunity to connect with people in a similar situation.

It wasn’t an intentional career change, but Kate couldn’t be happier with her new role.

“I absolutely love it. It is really the best thing that has ever happened to me,” says Kate.

“The thing I love the most is making a difference.

“Often (the parents and carers) are shy or a bit resistant to coming along for the first time.

“But I encourage them, and when they join in, watching them meet other people and the connections they make is amazing.

“I recently took a group of parents away for a respite weekend.

“Many of them had never met before but by the Saturday night they were sitting at dinner crying with laughter.

“One of the mums told me they have since implemented the tips they learned over that weekend, and it has changed their life and made it so much better.

“It’s moments like these that make my role so very rewarding.”

Kate says she is well supported in her role.

“The leadership team is amazing, and everyone is so welcoming,” she says.

“They care about your wellbeing. It’s a really nice place to work.”

Kate has recently turned down offers to return to the travel industry.

“I just couldn’t. I love my job and I wouldn’t give it up,” she says.

“To people who might be considering taking a role at Uniting, I would encourage them to do it.

“Pre-COVID I would never have considered changing my role, but it has really opened my eyes and been so positive.”

Find your career at Uniting

Trevor offers a helping hand.

Trevor is a jack of all trades.

For nearly a decade, the Gippsland based volunteer has provided a helping hand for Uniting’s services across the region.

Trevor supports local facilities manager, Joe with the day-to-day maintenance of Uniting sites in the area.

He has also supported local disability programs, driving participants around the region.

Always keen to bring a smile to people’s faces, Trevor dressed up as Santa Claus at a local Christmas party for children living in out-of-home care.

Most recently, he has been involved in our Homelessness to a Home program, delivering furniture and setting up appliances in local properties ready for people experiencing crisis to move in.

But Trevor’s journey to becoming a volunteer wasn’t easy.

Eleven years ago, Trevor suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“I was a log truck driver and I fell off the step of a truck,” says Trevor.

“I’m pretty lucky to be alive.

“It was a really difficult time for our family. My wife, Elizabeth, works at Uniting and they were really supportive.

“She had only been working at Uniting for a year when I had my accident, but they were fantastic in supporting her as she cared for me after it happened.”

During his long road to recovery, which required full-time care and extensive rehabilitation, Trevor spent a day a week with Elizabeth at work.

At first, he started helping with archiving and data input.

“I then started helping with the Christmas gift program for families in the area doing it tough,” says Trevor.

“When I eventually got my licence back, I started washing the company cars.

“Then I started helping Joe with going out to sites to tag and test equipment.

“I just go with the flow and I’m happy to help with anything.

“I’m a second pair of eyes for Joe.

“I like the fact that I can give something back to Uniting, for all they have done for my family.

“And I really enjoy working alongside Joe.”

For Joe, the feeling is mutual.

“Trevor is worth his weight in gold,” says Joe.

“He has been a huge help to me over the years.

“He’s always willing to jump in and help, no matter what the job is.

“Uniting is very lucky to have him onboard as a volunteer and I’m lucky to call him a friend.”

Become a volunteer

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Suzanne helps nurture NoBucks.

From humble beginnings as a tea and coffee service, NoBucks has grown into something much more meaningful for some Hobart locals.

And volunteer, Suzanne has been there from the start.

NoBucks was established by members of the former Wesley Uniting Church congregation in Hobart.

“Initially, we set it up to help bring more people into the church,” says Suzanne.

“One of the young women who attended our church was working (at a local beauty shop) and was telling us about how they would stand out the front with some of the products and ask passers-by if they wanted some of it on their skin.

“She suggested we should do something similar for the church, to get out there, be seen and try to ‘get a bit of church’ on people.”

At the time the church had been given a $2000 bequest and was trying to decide how to use it.

The congregation then decided to revamp the Sunday School room and open it for anyone who wanted to drop in for a cup of tea or coffee at lunchtime.

“People were free to walk in and make themselves a drink and sit down to relax and have a chat,” says Suzanne.

“The minister at the time would sit in here every lunchtime so he could say hello to people and make himself available if anyone wanted to talk.”

As word of the service spread, locals experiencing homelessness or social isolation soon became regular attendees.

As the numbers grew, so too did the service.

Suzanne and her fellow congregation members started cooking meals for those who came to NoBucks.

Fifteen years since it started and now run by Uniting Vic.Tas, NoBucks provides free two-course lunches each weekday to anyone who walks through the door.

While the service has changed over the years, there is one thing that has remained the same – Suzanne’s warm welcome.

“I’ve often thought ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ during my time at NoBucks,” says Suzanne.

“For many, it’s unfortunate circumstances that lead them to a tough place in life.

“I believe we are there to help people in their time of need.

“And I always follow the three P’s. I don’t preach, pry or presume.

“We are simply there to listen if needed.

“I’ve met some lovely people along the way and I just hope that I’ve been of some help to those people when needed.”

Become a volunteer

Donate now to support services like NoBucks

Volunteering leads to new opportunities for Nicole.

When Nicole started volunteering to overcome the isolation caused by COVID-19 lockdowns, she had no idea the opportunities it would open.

“I was working part-time from home because of COVID-19 restrictions” says Nicole.

“When things started to open again, I wanted to get out and be around people.

“I was browsing around my local op shop and started chatting to the volunteers and found out they were looking for more volunteers.”

Nicole started volunteering a day a week at her local Uniting op shop in Werribee.

“It was wonderful getting to know the other volunteers and regular customers,” she says.

“I was struggling during lockdowns and I didn’t feel like myself.

“The volunteering role definitely helped improve my mental health.”

Nicole says she enjoyed the treasure hunt aspect of op shops and helping people bag a bargain.

“There were some beautiful designer and vintage dresses donated,” she says.

“Someone donated a whole collection of Dr Who items and people went crazy for them.

“It was really interesting seeing the weird and wonderful things people donated.”

Nicole says she enjoyed balancing her work and volunteering role.

Her young son also spent time helping at the op shop.

When Nicole’s part-time contract job finished, she mentioned it to the op shop co-ordinator.

And from there, Nicole made the move from Uniting volunteer to employee.

“A project co-ordinator contract role had become available at Uniting, so I applied and was successful,” says Nicole.

“I really enjoyed the job and I was keen to stay at Uniting after my contract finished in December.

“A marketing position had just become available and my background is in marketing, so I jumped at the opportunity to apply.”

As fate would have it, the vacant position involved marketing Uniting’s op shops.

“It felt like it was meant be,” says Nicole.

“I still get to see the wonderful people I volunteered with, help promote the shops and hopefully make more money to support the work of Uniting.

“It feels like I’ve come full circle.”

Become a volunteer

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Helping people understand their past.

Sally and Judy donate many hours of their time each week to the Uniting Heritage Service.

The service supports people and their families who were:

  • adopted
  • spent time with foster care providers
  • in children’s homes
  • in family group homes
  • in orphanages.

If this out-of-home care was provided by the former Presbyterian, Methodist or Uniting Churches, we can help.

We rely heavily on the support of volunteers to progress our work with records.

Here, Sally and Judy have written some of their reflections.

“We have been friends for over 10 years. We both love history and met while working and volunteering in the archives of one of Melbourne’s oldest schools.

A chance conversation with a member of the Uniting Heritage Service team made us aware of Uniting’s large, important collection of records, dating back to the 1890s.

We indicated our interest in becoming volunteers and started in early 2021.

We work with records from the children’s and babies’ homes established by the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Victoria.”

It is widely known that across Australia, historical records from such institutions are often incomplete or missing altogether.

This makes it critical to ensure that surviving records are carefully preserved and then indexed, so the information they contain can be easily accessed by case workers, former residents and/or their families.

We are focusing on this indexing.

Judy works with minute books created by the volunteer committees that oversaw the day-to-day operations of the children’s homes, dating from the 1890s to the 1980s.

She reads through the minutes and records every child’s name in a separate index.

The hand-written books, each approximately 200 pages, document the lives of the residents, mostly through brief notes that record the reasons for and dates of admission and departure, where the child was at all times (in the Home, foster care, in service or transferred to another facility).

Sometimes the notes mention health issues, education and communication with families.

More broadly, the minutes are a window into the social history of their times.

They show how society and the law viewed and regulated children and families during these periods and how the Homes responded to economic depressions, wartime conditions and epidemics.

Sally’s focus is photographs from the babies’ homes.

Specifically, she works with images taken by Mothercraft nurses who worked in the institutions from the 1930s to the 1970s and kept personal albums of their times there.

These albums have been generously donated or loaned to the Heritage Service by the nurses.

The captions they wrote often include the first names of the children, which Sally carefully adds to a spreadsheet.

This can be a complex process as the children’s real names were often not used and not every photo was captioned.

All images have been digitised, but Sally works with both the digitised and original photographs as this makes it easier to decipher captions, labels and to identify faces.

As in the case with the Homes’ minutes, indexing provides access to these records — precious images of the early years of the young residents, which are sometimes the only photos from this early stage of their lives.

We feel privileged to be working with such personal records, and greatly respect the privacy and experiences of the children and families whose names and photographs we encounter.

We enjoy volunteering with the Uniting Heritage Service team and hope that our contributions will help in the process of piecing together the stories of the children who spent time in these Homes.”

Become a volunteer

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Serving up support and kindness.

For nearly 25 years, a dedicated team of volunteers have served up a hot meal and a warm welcome to Ballarat locals in crisis.

People experiencing homelessness and social insolation find shelter, a safe place to be themselves and the support they need to work towards a brighter future at our BreezeWay meals program.

This serivce has undergone some big changes in recent years.

BreezeWay’s loyal team of volunteers continued to serve takeaway meals during COVID-19 lockdowns, while also catering for the increasing demand for the service during these uncertain times.

“Our volunteers have risen to every challenge, rapidly embracing the need to change service delivery and they have demonstrated resilience in continuing to support the most vulnerable in our community,” says BreezeWay co-ordinator, Jen Wright.

“They continue to redouble their efforts and go above and beyond to meet the increasing need in the community, providing up to 125 meals each day.”

Uniting recently opened a larger BreezeWay service in Albert Street.

This new building has a commercial kitchen and space for up to 80 people to sit down for a meal.

That’s more than triple the capacity of the former dining room in Dana Street.

The new building is fully accessible and an emergency relief centre now ajoins BreezeWay, with a food pantry and facilities including showers, washing machines and clothes dryers.

All of this would not be possible without the invaluable support of our volunteers.

The BreezeWay team has provided close to 53,000 meals in the past year.

“For many people attending BreezeWay, it is their only daily connection with the greater community and the only way they can access a hot meal,” says Jen.

“During the COVID-19 challenges and beyond, our BreezeWay volunteers have been a welcoming and supportive part of many lives.

“BreezeWay’s impact on the local community would not be possible without the dedication, compassion and respect each and every member of our volunteer team brings through the door each day.”

Become a volunteer

Donate to Uniting to support services like BreezeWay

Uniting Prahran receives funding boost to expand food delivery service and mental health services.

Uniting Vic.Tas today welcomed a $490,000 funding boost from the Victorian Government which will provide more meals and support for vulnerable people in Prahran and surrounding areas.

The Victorian Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers and Minister for Child Protection and Family Services, the Hon Anthony Carbines made the announcement during a visit to Uniting Prahran today with the Upper House member for Southern Metro, Nina Taylor.

Uniting Vic. Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike said the funding would allow the service to provide more than 8,000 extra meals a year to people struggling to access food relief and emergency relief services.

“During the pandemic, the demand for our emergency relief services at Prahran increased by around 80 per cent,” she said.

“We started delivering food packages to people who were isolated in the community and experiencing more complex health issues. Since then, more and more people have come to rely on this form of support.

“This funding will allow us to expand our mobile food deliveries by purchasing two refrigerated vans, and recruit a dedicated worker who can work with our other volunteers.”

Ms Pike said the additional funding would also be used to employ a mental health duty worker to better assist people who were coming to the centre with complex needs.

“We know people have been really struggling with the rising costs of living and putting food on the table, but at the same time, we’ve seen a rise in the number of people presenting to us with complex health and psychosocial needs,” she said.

“By having a mental health worker available at the centre, we can work with people experiencing crisis due to homelessness, family violence, alcohol and other drugs or other complex problems.

“Our service at Prahran also provides specialist employment services, an Orange Door family violence support service and targeted programs for those experiencing long term mental health issues.

“Part of the funding will be used to provide a much-needed facelift to our foyer so we can direct people to the appropriate service and provide a safe and welcoming environment with clear signage for our Aboriginal and LGBTIQ+ CALD communities.

Team Life Cycle rides the Murray to Moyne

After cycling for 19 hours across two days, covering 1494.5kms, and consuming over 20 litres of water, Team Life Cycle have ridden the Murray to Moyne (M2M) relay event. All while raising $4,295 for Uniting’s mental health services.

Team captain, Chris ‘Morf’ Morfoot, shares with us details of the ride.

Despite losing two team members to Covid-19 isolation, we did it! What an event!

Conditions were mild, even occasionally favourable, allowing the team to average nearly 30kms per hour on Saturday and 29kms on Sunday.

Friday morning was hectic, as bikes, camping equipment and supplies were loaded up in preparation for the giant ride ahead.

Once arriving in Echuca, we set up, registered, and did a warmup ride to prepare our legs for what lay ahead.

On Saturday, the first day of the event, the team rose at around 6am and gathered around the starting line which was a hive of activity.

In total 18 teams left Echuca, with five leaving from Mildura and eight from Swan Hill.

We all set off, with a lead car in front and a tail car behind which managed the spread of cyclists across the route.

As you can imagine everyone rode at different speeds, so it didn’t take long for the teams to spread out as much as 60kms at times.

Team Life Cycle’s relay went well, with each team of two doing six legs of between 23 to 28kms each.

Thankfully, apart from sore limbs and the occasional cramp, everyone came into Hamilton, the overnight stop, tired but in good spirits.

Hamilton is where all three routes merged, so there were bikes and Lycra gear everywhere!

The next morning, we were all up from around 5.30am as the ride to Port Fairy commenced at 7am.

On Sunday, the whole team was on the road riding the full 96kms.

Whilst the weather at times looked threatening, the rain held off, which was a blessing.

The team cruised into Port Fairy about 10.45am, elated to be there and glad to begin the celebrations.

After a leisurely afternoon the team had a celebratory dinner, and all toasted to a successful ride, with ALL looking forward to the 2023 event.

To support Uniting Mental Health services donate now

Victorian Budget a ‘missed opportunity’ for our most vulnerable.

One of Victoria’s largest not-for-profit community services providers, Uniting Vic.Tas, says while the $12 billion boost to health was essential, the 2022-23 Victorian State Budget still risks leaving many of our most vulnerable behind.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said it was disappointing the Government had not extended the successful Homelessness to a Home program.

“We’re disappointed about Homelessness to a Home which provided thousands of people who had been sleeping rough with a roof over their head during the pandemic,” Ms Pike said

“This was a program which made a real difference, giving people a sense of hope and some light at the end of the tunnel, so we would have like to have seen it continue and even extended further.

“We have committed $20 million towards social housing, including a plan to build 500 new homes over the next five years. While the government is providing significant investment in social housing, we believe they still need to go further.

“We’re pleased the government is delivering $490,000 to upgrade Uniting in Prahran which supports thousands of locals every week, including providing hot meals each day. This funding also includes a 12-month mental health duty worker.

“Increased investment in therapeutic support and interventions for children and families impacted by family violence is welcome, and it was also pleasing to see funding for an additional 150 residential care placements for at-risk children.

“Further investment in programs for at-risk children and families is timely, however, we believe more needs to be done to make the out-of-home care system fairer by ensuring all children receive the appropriate therapeutic care.

“The $250 cash incentive for households to shop around for the best energy deals provides some immediate cost-of-living relief, but we would have liked more targeted and long-term support for those on low-incomes and income support payments.”

Tom’s story

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Everyone has the right to live their life to its fullest potential.

But we know that there are times when people find barriers in their way.

For those times we will be there, providing practical assistance and a listening ear.

As we learn to live with COVID-19 and reconnect with those dear to us, this winter brings an opportunity to share hearty meals with family and friends.

But for many people, winter brings a world of worry.

One program in Ballarat is helping to fill bellies and keep young people in the region connected to their community and loved ones.

Meals for Change supports vulnerable young people to buy discounted meals in local cafes.

Through the program, young people pay just $3 towards the cost of a meal in any of the 8 partnering cafes, up to the value of $15.

Cafes are then reimbursed the balance by Uniting.

The program also allows young people to bring a family member or friend as a guest and they can receive a discount on both meals.

This gives young people who are going through a tough time a chance to connect with their loved ones.

Meals for Change receives no government funding; it relies solely on grants and the generosity of people in the community.

“The program is about more than just providing affordable meals to youth in crisis,” says program co-ordinator, Jen, who started the program in 2016.

“Most importantly, we give young people a sense of community and belonging. They know they are safe and welcome, which is something many of us take for granted.

“Through the program, we can also offer support to pursue education and training opportunities that help people find work and stability.”

Tom credits the program for helping him turn his life around.

Six years ago, he had found himself homeless.

At just 18 years-old, Tom was left devastated by the death of his father.

Still reeling from his beloved dad’s passing, Tom and his mother moved to Ballarat.

“I became depressed and withdrawn,” says Tom.

“It was a really tough time.”

With his mental health deteriorating, Tom was unable to find work.

This put a strain on his relationship with his mother.

“I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I moved out,” recalls Tom.

Tom spent the next year living in a Uniting boarding house.

At the same time, Jen was in the process of setting up Meals for Change.

“The housing and crisis team referred me to Jen,” says Tom.

“She was setting up the program and asked me to be a secret shopper to see which businesses would be suitable for the program.

“I was happy to help. I knew the program would be helpful to myself and others going through difficult times.

“When you’re on Centrelink and living paycheck to paycheck, you only have enough money to scrape by and pay for the essentials.

“Meals for Change gave me a chance to connect with my community, even if I was down to my last $20 of the week.

“I could eat tasty, healthy and hearty meals. A full stomach at the end of the day is always a good feeling.

“But more importantly for me, I regained my social life.

“The café staff were always so friendly and welcoming.

“I felt free of judgement, and I was able to relax and enjoy myself.

“It helped me get my mental health back on track.”

Now in his late twenties, Tom no longer accesses the program, which is available to young people aged 15 – 25 years of age.

He has found long-term housing and is the proud father of a 4-year-old son, Ben.

Tom has also started his own gardening business.

He says he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the support he received 6 years ago.

“Jen is my guardian angel at Uniting,” says Tom.

“Thanks to her support, I was able to get my licence and start working.

“She was always friendly and welcoming. We would talk about my goals and how I could achieve them.

“I have no doubt if I hadn’t received that help when I was at my lowest, things would be very different for me today.

“I have a friend who is couch-surfing at the moment and I’ve told her how Uniting helped me change my future.

“I hope they can help her too.”

More than 300 young people have accessed the program since it started.

Over 7100 meals have been served to young people and their loved ones.

“I never realised how significant it is to sit in a cafe and have a meal and feel safe and at ease with the world. That is what I hear time and time again,” says Jen.

“This program isn’t just about filling bellies, it’s about filling the soul.”

With your support we can be there for people of all ages and stages of life when they need us most thanks to programs like Meals for Change.

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Joint Statement- Palm Sunday 2022.

The Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and Uniting Vic Tas 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 (10 April 2022), 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. 

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 Melbourne, the march will start at 2.00pm at the State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanson Street, Melbourne”.

Join the Palm Sunday walk on 10 April

Congratulations to our volunteer leaders and teams.

On Friday 25 March 2022 representatives from Uniting attended the 2021 Volunteering Awards (Victoria) at Government House hosted by the Governor of Victoria, the Hon Linda Dessau AC and Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Mr Anthony Carbines.

Uniting was announced as a finalist and had great honour of being named runners up for the COVID 19 Resilience Award.

The award was judged on how we undertook activities to overcome COVID-19 challenges, whilst maintaining high quality services, and implementing strategies to support volunteers to be resilient and adapt to the requirements of COVID-19 public health orders.

Being announced as a finalist and then runners up is a recognition of both the central systems and support we have in place, as well as the local leadership and engagement between volunteer leaders and teams.

The generosity of volunteer’s response during the COVID crisis can only be described as overwhelming. We are proud to say there were 2,467 active volunteers across all service streams of Uniting at the height of the pandemic and restrictions. This meant that even with COVID restrictions approximately 85% of Uniting volunteers remained active and engaged.

At Uniting volunteers are invaluable and vital to our success. This past year volunteers:

  • contributed more than 1.3 million hours of service
  • answered 72,500 calls to Lifeline
  • delivered 67,00 meals to people in need
  • provided 48,100 food parcels and vouchers for people in crisis
  • made over 8,000 welfare calls to older people
  • 360 foster carers provided their home for vulnerable children

Please get in touch if you are interested in becoming a Uniting volunteer. 

Uniting welcomes Bill to end homelessness by 2030.

Uniting Vic.Tas supports the intent of the Human Rights and Housing Legislation Amendment (Ending Homelessness) Bill 2022 tabled by the Victorian Greens to eliminate homelessness in Victoria by 2030.

The Bill ‘would amend the Housing Act to set a zero per cent homelessness target by the end of the decade, and ensure the Victorian Government created a plan to achieve it’.

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

Additionally Uniting has pledged $20 million to help build 500 new affordable housing projects across Victoria over the next five years.

As a provider of social housing as well as multiple services that interact with people at different stages of housing crisis, Uniting has called on the Victorian Government to legislate and invest in a homelessness and housing strategy that adequately meets the current and increasing demand for housing support in the state.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said “affordable, safe and secure housing for everybody is an essential human right.

“Safe and secure housing is a major factor in helping get a person’s life on track. Often, it’s only once a person secures housing, they’re able to address any issues they may have with employment, family violence, mental health, alcohol or drugs,” Ms Pike said.

“In my years of experience I know, and we all know, that so many often quite expensive and complex interventions we offer to people who are in great need can fall down the minute they exit those programs because they do not have a place to live.

“The pandemic has thrown Victoria’s shortage of social and affordable housing into stark relief and given more people than ever before an insight into housing security.

“Uniting’s services saw a significant increase in demand for services, many from people who had never access crisis support before.

“As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, the resolution to provide adequate social and affordable housing in every neighbourhood in both metropolitan and regional Victoria must be our top priority.

“Legislating housing as a human right is courageous and bold leadership, which will hold governments and housing providers like ourselves responsible and accountable to provide more housing for the most vulnerable Victorians.”

Team Life Cycle prepare for the Murray to Moyne.

Nine very passionate cyclists who thrive on the challenge of pushing their bodies to the very limit will ride the Murray to Moyne (M2M) Cycle relay in April.

Known as Team Life Cycle, the riders are raising vital funds for Uniting’s mental health services.

The Murray to Moyne Cycling Relay began 35 years ago. It was the inspiration of Graham ‘Woody’ Woodrup.

Graham dreamt of spreading the news that riding a bike not only has fabulous health and social benefits, but it can also be done to help others.

The Murray to Moyne is a team endurance event and an established classic on the cycling calendar.

Riders cycle in relays non-stop over two days and one night. They choose different routes starting from towns on the banks of the river Murray across stunning countryside in western Victoria to finish at Port Fairy.

They are encouraged to raise money for hospitals, health services and health-related charities close to their hearts.

Team Captain Chris ‘Morf’ Morfoot says the team is training hard and building fitness levels to get ready for the challenge of the M2M.

This year the event runs on Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 April. The team will travel to Echuca on the Friday and camp by the Murray overnight while they prepare for the big days ahead.

“Our team is broken up into 3 groups of 3 and each group has to ride 6 x 1-hour legs in relay fashion, commencing 9am Saturday” says Chris.

“We have 3 support crew and 2 vehicles carrying bikes, resting riders and all the necessities to keep our teams on the road pedalling, fed, watered and safe”

Team Life Cycle will ride through until around 1am Sunday morning.

After a compulsory albeit very short sleep in Hamilton, they will then get back in the saddle for the last 90 kilometres to the finish line in Port Fairy as one team.

Time then for a well-earned rest/meal/shower and most likely sleep.

“Each of our riders will do at least 240kms within the 24hours with some completing more depending on how well the rest of the team fare,” said Chris.

“Sound hard? It certainly is!!

Sound challenging? It certainly is!!

Would you like to support us? Please do!!

“We are welcoming sponsorships, donations, whatever you can muster for this amazing group of cyclists training with such commitment for a gruelling event raising funds for a very worthy cause” says Chris.

“We are delighted to partner with Uniting Vic.Tas for the first of what we hope will be many fundraising cycling events.

“So please, get on board, support the team and soak up all the lead-up info and live communications throughout the whole two days.”

You can follow Team Life Cycle’s progress or make a donation to support their efforts

Reducing drug-related harm should be our priority

Uniting Vic.Tas, one of Victoria’s largest alcohol and drug treatment providers, supports the intent of the Bill to be tabled by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten in State Parliament to decriminalise the use and possession of small quantities of illicit drugs in Victoria.

At Uniting Vic.Tas, we provide adult and youth withdrawal, rehabilitation, and counselling services as well as outreach and home-based support across the state and work closely with those involved in criminal justice system.

Our colleagues at Uniting NSW/ACT have campaigned to decriminalise the use and possession of small quantities of illicit drugs in these jurisdictions for many years with Uniting opening the first safe injecting room at Kings Cross, Sydney in 2001.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said Uniting Vic.Tas is in favour of a harm minimisation approach to the use and possession of small quantities of illicit drugs.

“We think this proposed Bill is an important step in the right direction,” Ms Pike said.

“Sadly, there’s widespread possession and use of illicit drugs in our community, but we know that criminalising this just hasn’t worked – it hasn’t stopped or significantly reduced drug use nor has it reduced drug-related harm.

“We believe there has to be a new approach, one which acknowledges drug use as a health issue through harm minimisation. This will ultimately save lives.

“However, if we’re going to direct the focus on harm minimisation and treatment programs, these programs need to be properly funded and resourced for it to be effective.”

Uniting Acting General Manager Alcohol and Other Drugs services, Adrian Webber, said early intervention and treatment is the key to minimising the harm associated with drug use.

“Every day, we see the harm of illicit drug dependence and the impact on both the individual and their loved ones,” Mr Webber said.

“We see the devastating impact for people who get caught up in the criminal justice system for using small amounts of illicit substances and the long-term impact this can have on them.

“A health and harm minimisation first approach will remove some of the stigma, but most importantly, it will help more people to begin their road to recovery.”

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike awarded Member of the Order of Australia

After a long and distinguished career including time as a teacher, university lecturer, Member of Parliament and the community services sector, Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has been recognised in the national Honours List announced on January 26.

Ms Pike was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for “significant service to social welfare and not-for-profit organisations, and to the Parliament of Victoria”.

Elected to the Victorian Parliament in 1999, Ms Pike was the state’s Health Minister between 2002 and 2007 and Minister for Housing between 1999 and 2002, Minister for Community Services in 2002 and Minister for Education between 2007 and 2010.

In more recent years, Ms Pike has been CEO of Uniting Vic.Tas, one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community services organisations since 2019 following three years as the Board Chair.

Ms Pike said she was humbled to be one of the thousands of Australians recognised in this year’s Honours List.

“In accepting this honour, I also recognise that January 26 is not a day of celebration for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Uniting Vic.Tas stands in solidarity in recognising the injustices, dispossession and trauma that began on this date,” Ms Pike said.

“We also affirm our commitment to find a date for our National Day which unites all Australians.”

“There are many incredible people on this year’s list, people who have devoted their lives to others and to their communities, so it’s humbling be named alongside them.

“It’s a surprise, but a huge honour to be recognised in this way.”

Ms Pike was the Labor Member for Melbourne for 13 years between 1999 and 2012 and has devoted more than 33 years of her life to the community services sector.

Prior to Parliament, Ms Pike taught humanities at secondary schools in Adelaide and Darwin during the 1970s and 1980s.

Along with her work at Uniting Vic.Tas, Ms Pike has previously served as Board Chair at Western Health, Chairperson of the Victorian Council of Social Services and also the South Australian Urban Renewal Authority.

Our statement for January 26

January 26 is not a day of celebration for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a reminder of the lasting impacts of colonisation and dispossession and for many, a day of grief and mourning. 

Uniting Vic.Tas stands in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in recognising the injustices, dispossession and trauma that began 234 years ago on 26 January 1788. We recognise the continued impacts of colonisation through dispossession of land and disconnection from family, culture, and Country. These include removal of children and over-representation of Aboriginal people in our prisons. 

We deeply regret the legacy of past policies and practices that continue to detrimentally impact the identity, dignity, and spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Australians of today are not directly responsible for what happened in the past but it is a part of our shared history, and as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians we are responsible for what happens in the future. 

On January 26, we stand alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. We recognise and celebrate the strength, resilience and resistance of our First Nations People and the path to self-determination. We recognise and respect their sacred connection to the land for over sixty millennia and we pay our respect to Elders past, present and emerging, on whose land we live and work every day. 

As the community services organisation of the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania we affirm that the Uniting Church in Australia that has long called for a change in the date of our National Day, and has urged the Federal Government to promote community discussion directed towards finding a date for Australia Day that has greater power to unite than 26 January. 

As a nation, we must find a date for a National Day which unites all Australians. A day we can celebrate this country as home to the oldest continuing culture on earth.

Matthew’s story

Children in foster care rarely have this early parenting experience.

Let us reflect on Mathew’s life. Even before he was born he was hearing the violent arguments between his parents. His mum could barely soothe herself, as she was alert for the next beating. She had no space to keep her developing baby in mind. Her high stress levels led to increased levels of stress hormones, which surrounded Matthew as a foetus. After he was born the arguments continued. Sometimes Matthew was held between his fighting parents. At least once he was snatched from his mum’s arms and flung onto the bed by his dad. As a baby Matthew instinctively signalled his distress to his parents by crying and screaming. But when he did, at best he was met with no response from his parents. Worse they yelled at him, told him to shut up and even on occasion hit him. Matthew learned not to signal when he needed soothing, but with no capacity to soothe himself all he could do was sleep through his distress.

One night, police were called by neighbours to Matthew’s home. They found Matthew in physical danger while his parents fought. Matthew was removed in the middle of the night to a foster placement. He was found to be a ‘good’ baby, no trouble to care for, spending large amounts of time asleep. When he ‘woke up’ in his toddler years, he was highly active, prone to tempers and unusually self-reliant, with both his carers and his birth parents, who he saw every couple of months. He rarely turned to his carers for comfort, even when he experienced pain or distressing experiences.

Like Luka, Matthew experienced complex trauma which was chronic and prolonged and began before his birth. However, unlike Luka, Matthew did not have parents he could trust to love and care for him. He had no support that he could rely on during the worst part of his experience. Matthew had to learn to become self-reliant, an ability he clung to throughout his childhood. The trauma that Mathew experienced occurred within his family and this has had a major impact on him.

Matthew’s brain is wired for danger and a lack of trust in others. He has learnt how to behave this way with his mum and dad and this impacts upon his behaviour with his foster carers and at school. He finds it difficult to calm down once upset and he struggles to self-reflect and make sense of his experiences and relationships with others. He finds it hard to trust others.

Matthew also experiences emotions such as sadness, anger or worry more intensely when he thinks his carers are unavailable or, worse, if they argue or became stressed. For Matthew these are a reminder of the more intense arguments and stress of his mum and dad. His carer telling him “no” or being displeased with him can cause sadness, anger or worry, which can lead to the triggering of a memory of his early childhood trauma experience. This reinforces Matthew’s need to be self-reliant. It moves Matthew further away from being able to seek comfort from his carers who he sees as both the source of the distress and unavailable as comforters.

Matthew is a difficult child to parent. How he learnt to cope with neglectful and frightening parenting early in his life and to cope with the subsequent separation and loss of these parents and his emergency foster carers affects his ability to make good attachments. His need to stay in control means that he is not open to a reciprocal, loving relationship with his carers. He works hard to be self-reliant; to hide his need for comfort. But when his stress reduces he continues to demonstrate coercive, attention-needing behaviours, demanding that his carers remain attentive to him.

Belinda and Mike are Matthew’s long-term carers. They have an older birth child, Daniel, whom they have parented successfully. When parenting Daniel, his parents felt safe and competent. They enjoy being with him, but can also recover easily from times of conflict when Daniel is more oppositional. Belinda and Mike always make sure to repair their relationship with Daniel following such times, and so he experiences unconditional love. Belinda and Mike feel rewarded in the parenting task, want to approach and interact with their child and are able to tune into his needs and make sense of his behaviours and their responses to them. They are able to provide Daniel with warmth, openness and empathy as well as providing boundaries for his behaviour and sufficient structure to help him stay safe.

With Matthew, all of these parenting abilities are challenged. Whilst they offer the same unconditional love as for Daniel, Matthew does not trust this. Structure and boundaries can trigger his fears of being hurt or abandoned again and he responds with rage and terror. It is hard to enjoy being with Matthew as Belinda and Mike find themselves waiting for the next rage-filled episode. They try to attune to Matthew’s needs, but his behaviour leaves them feeling confused and helpless. They try to give love and warmth, but it never feels like it is reciprocated. They offer nurture but Matthew rejects this in favour of his feelings of control.

They feel no pleasure in this relationship and find it hard to tune into his needs or to make sense of his behaviours. They experience a painful sense of failure as parents. They feel like withdrawing. They quickly become defensive as they shout, nag and plead with him.

Fortunately Belinda and Mike can think, plan and self-monitor even at their most stressed with Matthew.  They are also able to seek and use the support of friends, family and professionals. This self-awareness and ability to draw upon support allows them to stick with Matthew, rather than rejecting him.

Belinda and Mike found some good professional support and this, combined with good friends and some supportive family members, helped them withstand the worst times. Belinda had the hardest time as Matthew feared her love the most and rejected her attempts to connect with him. It was particularly tough in his early years when only she witnessed this side of him whilst to everyone else he was charm itself. At eight years of age, Matthew struggled to make sense of his experience of being in care. He figured “I must be a bad kid!” and dreamed of parents who would not have rejected him. The increased stress that this brought meant his anger and rage became visible to everyone. Even the smallest of boundaries and the kindest of ‘no’s’ led to a fear that he would be rejected and would lose this family too. Belinda and Mike worked with their professional supporters to understand this and to remain connected with Matthew even when he was fighting them. Most difficult for them was balancing Matthew’s enormous needs with those of their older son, so that Daniel also got what he needed from his parents. With support and therapeutic help they managed and they had some calm years.

There were some good family times as Matthew began to believe in what was on offer. They could not be as spontaneous as they would have liked, change and transition would always be difficult, but there was laughter and fun. It was also good to see Matthew’s developing friendship with Daniel, and to watch the two of them enjoying finding their feet in the wider world.

It was seat belt time as Matthew hit his teens. All the old doubts and fears seemed to resurface as Matthew again tried to figure out who he was and where he belonged. For a while the old Matthew was back with his need to control, reject and hate within the family. Luckily their professional support was on hand ready to mobilise and together they all figured out what was going on. Belinda and Mike revisited old strategies. At night they watched him sleeping and remembered the love they would always have for him. A therapist worked with all of them so that Matthew could experience his carer’s acceptance and understanding of his biggest rages and worst fears.

Matthew left home when he was ready, which was in his mid-20s. He came back often, sharing with them his success as an engineer. As he approached 30 he found a steady partnership with Ruth. The proudest moment of Belinda and Mike’s life was watching Matthew hold his small infant son. As they watched the two gaze at each other they knew that despite the ups and downs, they had got there and that Mathew no longer had to carry the legacy of his early days.

Adapted from Matthew’s Story in Golding, Kim S. (2013) “Why are you afraid of being parented?” in Howe, David (ed) & Alper, Joanne (ed) Assessing Adoptive and Foster Parents, Jessica Kingsley, pp. 19-36. Reproduced by permission of Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

A big step towards a fairer and more equitable Victoria

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the decision by the Victorian Parliament to introduce the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Bill into law.

The Bill will now make it illegal for faith-based organisations to discriminate against employees because of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

Religious-based organisations that receive government funding to provide services, including Uniting Vic.Tas, will also no longer be able to refuse to provide those services based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identify.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the changes are an important step forward for equality in Victoria, particularly for the LGBTIQ+ community.

“This is about fairness, making everybody feel safe and supported, giving everybody equal rights,” Ms Pike said.

“We believe these new laws strike the right balance between protecting people from discrimination and supporting the rights of religious organisations to practice their faith.

“Nobody should have to hide who they are or pretend they’re somebody they’re not to keep their job or receive the help they need.

“Every person has the right to be who they are and enjoy freedom of thought, expression, conscience, religion and belief. These laws will make sure these freedoms can’t be used to harm or demean others.

“We believe in providing safe and fully inclusive, nondiscriminatory and welcoming workplaces – it’s integral to who we are.

“Everybody has the right to determine their own sexual orientation, their gender, their martial status and who they are, and these laws will protect that.”

Supporting older women in crisis

In June we opened a crisis accommodation facility that provides a safe space for older women experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Our team work with the women during their stay to secure long-term housing, and help with finances, mental health and any other support services they may need.

The project is the result of a partnership between the Victorian Government, Uniting Vic.Tas, the Uniting Church, Community Housing Limited and the Oak Building Group.

Since it opened, 4 women have moved in and are in the process of finding long-term housing.

The women age in range from late 40s to early 70s.

Two of the women have moved in after fleeing family violence.

Facility leader, Linda* says the move has made a positive difference for the women.

“It was hard when they first moved in, because we were in lockdown due to COVID-19,” says Linda.

“But now that restrictions have eased, the women are able to socialise and attend support groups.

“One of the women has been getting boxes of food and sharing them with the others, which is lovely to see.”

Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence found there is a gap in services for older women experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

“Older women have only had access to rooming and boarding houses, which are not suitable for older women,” says Linda.

“Here, they can move into their own space, make it their own and feel a lot safer.

“I remember when one of the women first moved in. She burst into tears when she walked in the door. She couldn’t speak for a while. She was overcome with joy to have her own space.

“The women are happy to be here. But at the same time, they are also worried about the next step.

“We’re working closely with them to find long-term housing solutions.”

*This is a true story about a real person. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the person featured. The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the person featured in this story.

Jobs Victoria Advocates join forces with GOTAFE to provide greater opportunities for regional jobseekers

When Jobs Victoria Advocates Barbara Mangles and Sharon D’Cruz began working with Uniting Vic.Tas in Shepparton, they could never have imagined just how far and wide across regional Victoria they would get to spread their skills and reach. Joining forces with GOTAFE’s Mobile Campus, they will visit 40 destinations to have an even greater impact on local communities, matching jobseekers with new career opportunities.

Being a Jobs Victoria Advocate is all about forming close working relationships with individuals, community service providers, potential employers, referral services and the education sector. Advocates Barbara Mangles and Sharon D’Cruz have been establishing their advocacy service across a large geographical footprint and leveraging relationships including one they formed with GOTAFE, the largest vocational education provider in regional Victoria, alongside their Uniting Vic.Tas Team Leader, Rob McAdam.

GOTAFE launched its Mobile Campus in November 2021. The refurbished semi-trailer is fit out with a client reception area, private career counselling space, workshop/seminar space and a community computer lab. It provides a space for local people wanting to learn more about employment and training pathways. Together, the GOTAFE Mobile Campus and Jobs Victoria Advocates will visit Victorian communities to provide more accessible education, jobs and skills services.

Having already been to Nagambie, Merrifield and Cobram in their first few weeks, they’ll be participating in community events and expos, and setting up at new housing estates, markets, shopping centres and secondary colleges to engage with the community.

“Being able to work closely with the GOTAFE Mobile Campus team means that we can broaden our outreach and engage with more jobseekers in more locations while forming direct links with employers and other community services,” commented Rob McAdam, Team leader Employment Services, Uniting Vic.Tas, Goulburn & Ovens Murray.

“What makes our Advocates so valuable to our communities is the fact that they provide more than just employment assistance. The work they do supports jobseekers to overcome any obstacle to employment, like cultural differences, language barriers, housing, mental health and diversity issues,” he added.

From Nagambie to Beechworth, Gisborne to Bright and Yarrawonga to Wodonga, the collaboration between GOTAFE and Uniting Vic.Tas’ Job Victoria Advocates aims to bridge the gap between regional communities and delivering critical employment and education services. This is more important than ever, especially for those who have faced heightened social and economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“GOTAFE is looking forward to working with local Job Advocates from Jobs Victoria as we bring our new Mobile Campus to communities across regional Victoria,” said Jane O’Brien, Coordinator of Student Attraction at GOTAFE.

“All Victorians deserve equal access to job hunting skills and support. Our partnership with Jobs Victoria will deliver for people in the regions regardless of location, access and financial barriers,” she said.

Discover where the GOTAFE Mobile Campus is heading

Find out how Jobs Victoria Advocates can connect you with TAFE skills, job centres, employment services, apprenticeships and more.

Learn more about job and training opportunities

Religion must not be a reason to discriminate

Uniting Vic.Tas is urging the Federal Government to withdraw its proposed Religious Discrimination Bill fearing it will cause unnecessary distress and hardship.

CEO Bronwyn Pike said the Bill in its current form has the potential to allow people and organisations to use faith as a means to cause harm to clients, customers, staff and volunteers.

“Religious freedom must always be balanced against basic human rights,” Ms Pike said.

“Although we come from different faiths, religions and cultures, we are united in our focus on community and social service.

“We’re extremely proud of the work we do. Allowing people of faith to discriminate against people of a different faith or on the basis of their sexuality or marital status is completely against what we stand for.

“We don’t support the Bill as it currently stands, because we don’t believe it will benefit the community.

“Religious organisations such as ours have demonstrated that it is possible to uphold the religious faith on which our work is founded – providing services to anyone who needs them – while at the same time respecting the diverse faith of our workforce, volunteers, clients and residents.

“The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill has the potential to create additional barriers for vulnerable people in accessing housing, employment or alcohol and drug or mental health support services.

“For people who are marginalised and experiencing social exclusion, and have a limited ability to self-advocate, this Bill is likely to cause further harm and distress.

“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.

“There are no grounds on which religion can be a justification for saying or doing harmful things. This Bill goes too far and must be withdrawn.”

Mary’s story

Mary* is a mother of 2 young children who recently left an abusive relationship.

Mary’s partner was violent towards her and their children.

Mary had attempted to leave the relationship with her children several times, but her partner was able to locate them and she returned to the relationship.

Child protection became involved and support was provided by family violence support workers.

After several court appearances for family violence related offences, Mary’s partner was jailed.

Mary does not want to reconcile with her partner and both Mary and her children remain fearful of his release from jail.

Mary has multiple health issues caused by the abuse.

These health needs require constant monitoring by her GP.

The children require ongoing counselling to work through the trauma of the abuse.

Mary and her children were referred to a Uniting Integrated Family Services (IFS).

Our case manager has been working with the family for several months.

Mary and her children repeatedly talk about their need for safety and security.

Mary has experienced long term financial instability and we have helped her access welfare payments.

She now manages her weekly payments to ensure she covers basic needs.

Our team worked with Mary to secure a Family Violence Flexible Support Package, which has helped her get a private rental and purchase security doors and locks for the windows.

This also helped cover removalist costs, the bond and the first month’s rent.

The family also received financial support for the children’s education, including school uniforms and an ipad.

Mary is also working towards a qualification, so she can find stable employment.

Having settled into their new home, Mary and her children are continuing to work through the ongoing impact of the violence they endured.

*This is a true story about a real person. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the person featured. The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the person featured in this story.

Sue’s story

Experiencing family violence is traumatic for children and young people.

It can have long-term effects on their health and wellbeing.

Sue* works in our Family Violence services at Uniting, supporting children and young people who have experienced family violence.

Sue recently supported a woman who left her partner after years of physical and psychological abuse.

The woman fled with their 2 young children, who had also suffered abuse from their father.

“The abuse was so significant that the mother suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” says Sue.

“The children felt very unsafe when they were near their father and they didn’t know how to say ‘no’ to him. They felt like they didn’t have a voice.”

The violence started after the children were born.

“Like a lot of women in this situation, she didn’t know how to leave and was scared of what would happen if she did,” says Sue.

“She was able to leave and find somewhere to stay. But when she came to us (at Uniting) she had new challenges to deal with.

“The father was demanding to see the children 2-3 times a week.

“The court approved this, despite the children not wanting to see their father.”

Sue worked with the children throughout this time, giving them coping techniques to deal with the challenges they faced when seeing their father.

“The children attend one of our group sessions for young people impacted by family violence,” says Sue.

“The group facilitator recently told me how amazed she is with the children. They are now very vocal about their experiences and they are able to communicate their thoughts and feelings with others.”

Sue says the father is now in counselling to help him understand and work through this violent behaviour.

“The children now feel like their voices are heard,” says Sue.

“They know that if they don’t want to see their father, they don’t have to.

“They have a long road ahead of them. But we will continue to work with them to provide the support they need.”

*This is a true story about a real person. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the person featured. The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the person featured in this story.

Standing up to gender-based violence

Uniting Vic.Tas is taking a stance during this year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, aimed at ending gender-based violence.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a global initiative from the United Nations, designed to galvanise individuals, communities, and organisations to address gender inequalities, gender-based violence and take action to prevent violence before it starts.

The campaign starts on Thursday 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The campaign runs until World Human Rights Day on 10 December.

A major part of the campaign will be the Walk Against Family Violence, which will be taking place at locations across Victoria including Melbourne, Dandenong, Shepparton and Sale on Thursday 25 November.

Family violence is the single largest contributor to homelessness for women in Australia and the leading contributor to preventable illness, disability and death for women aged 15 to 44.

Staff and volunteers from across Uniting will take part in the walks.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike urged the community to continuing speaking up and reporting family violence.

“We all deserve the right to feel safe in our own homes,” Ms Pike said.

“The most insidious aspect of family violence is that it mostly happens behind closed doors, so it’s largely hidden, often until it’s too late.

“We know family violence can happen to anyone – it could be a family member, a friend, someone at work or even your neighbour.

“The 16 Days of Activism is about raising awareness of gender-based and family violence, speaking up and taking action to prevent it from happening.

“At Uniting, we’re proud to provide a range of integrated and wrap-around services for people escaping violence, including housing and homelessness support.”

Twelve is too young to be treated as a criminal

Uniting Vic.Tas has joined Raise the Age Alliance members to urge governments across the country to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years.

Attorneys-General around Australia, including in Victoria and Tasmania, have recently agreed to work together to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike welcomed the issue being back on the agenda, but said 12 was too young to be treated as a criminal with clear evidence that 14 is the youngest age a child should be subjected to the criminal legal system.

Many 12-year-olds are still in primary school. At 13, they are starting their first year of high school. These formative years set a child’s trajectory for the rest of their lives.

In Victoria, even if the age of criminal responsibility is raised to 12, there is not a single child under 14 who will be released. This doesn’t go far enough.

Australia’s approach on this issue has been roundly slammed by the United Nations, most recently at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

For years, First Nations organisations, health, legal and human rights experts have been pleading for governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

The current laws in Victoria and Tasmania treat children as criminals. We think this is unfair and that these children should not be condemned in this way.

We’re now calling on the Victorian and Tasmanian governments to follow the ACT and publicly commit to 14 as the age of criminal responsibility.

 

UPDATE: New Equal Opportunity laws

As one of Victoria’s largest faith-based not-for-profit community services organisations, Uniting Vic.Tas, we’re extremely disappointed there is not unanimous support for the Victoria Government’s proposed reforms to the Equal Opportunity Act (Religious Exceptions Bill).

The reforms would make it illegal for faith-based organisations to discriminate against employees because of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

Faith-based organisations that receive government funding to provide services would also not be allowed refuse access to those services based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the proposed changes would be a step forward for equality in Victoria, particularly for the LGBTIQ+ community.

“This is an issue that should be above politics – it’s about respect, fairness and equality,” Ms Pike said.

“As a large faith-based organisation, we believe in fairness, making people feel safe and supported and giving people equal rights

“Nobody should have to hide who they are or pretend they’re somebody they’re not to keep their job or receive the help they need. Nobody should be discriminated against because of their sexuality.

“We fully support the Government’s proposed changes to the Bill which we believe strike the right balance between protecting people from discrimination and supporting the rights of religious organisations to practice their faith.

“Every person has the right to be who they are and enjoy freedom of thought, expression, conscience, religion and belief and the right to determine their own sexual orientation, their gender, their marital status and who they are.

“The proposed changes to the Bill would protect all of these freedoms and make sure they can’t be used to harm or demean others or discriminate against them – that’s why these it’s so important.”

Andrew’s story

After a health scare 10 years ago, Andrew decided he finally wanted to learn more about his birth family.

Andrew knew he was adopted but didn’t want to open a can of worms for everyone, particularly his birth mother.

While his adoptive parents had raised him, he had always wondered about his birth family.

He was ready to take a leap of faith.

He was curious about any health conditions he may have inherited.

Fortunately, his adoptive mother remembered his birth name and “the big home in Camberwell,” where the adoption was arranged by the Presbyterian Babies Home staff.

With encouragement from his sister, Andrew contacted the Uniting Heritage Service and talked to case manager, Victoria Lavery.

Andrew had requested his records many years ago but had not been ready to receive them.

He accepted Victoria’s offer to search for his birth family and in the following weeks, she was successful in locating Andrew’s records.

In December 2020, Victoria gave Andrew his adoption records and facilitated contact with his birth family.

Andrew learnt that after he was born, his birth mother had married and moved interstate.

Sadly, she had died of bowel cancer earlier that year.

Talking to her partner, Andrew learnt that they got married and had 2 children.

Their oldest son also died of bowel cancer in early 2021.

The family urged Andrew to get a bowel cancer screening.

Andrew’s result was clear, but the doctor was concerned about Andrew’s constant headaches.

Further testing showed a series of brain abnormalities, which Andrew has since had removed but could have been fatal without treatment in the short term.

Andrew has experienced tough times recently and is now getting back on track.

Today, Andrew is back at work and looking forward to driving again now that he is over his health scare.

Getting in touch with his birth family and learning their medical history may have saved his life.

Stella’s story

Stella* had received her information and decided to make contact her birth mother.

She asked the Heritage Service to do the search on her behalf.

She had been found by her birth father a few years earlier and this had not been a positive experience.

He wanted more contact than Stella was comfortable with and she regretted giving him her address.

This time she wanted to have another person to support her during the process.

A search by the Heritage Service at the registry of births, deaths and marriages located a married name for her birth mother.

An electoral roll search revealed a possible address, so a letter was posted.

When this received no response, a second letter was sent several weeks later by registered mail.

This time, Stella’s birth mother, Winifred* responded.

She said that she had “ignored the first letter but thought she had better respond to the second one.”

Winifred said she cried when she received the letter and was tearful on the phone to a Heritage Service team member.

She spoke of her lifelong sense of guilt, her situation at the time, her husband and children born after Stella.

Winifred asked: “what does she want,” “what is she like,” “what if she’s not serious,” and “how can I tell my children.”

After several conversations, she found the courage to tell her other children.

The worker kept in touch with both Stella and Winifred, passing messages with permission, that laid the groundwork for a meeting.

Stella, Winifred and a Heritage Service team member met at a park in the country.

Both Stella and Winifred brought photographs of their families and themselves.

Our team member made a picnic lunch and supported the conversation.

Stella said: “it’s great that you are here, my mind is spinning and I can’t think straight.”

Six months later, Stella and Winifred have continued to keep in touch.

Our team member has also kept in touch with the pair, but this contact is gradually reducing as the 2 women work out their own ways of communicating.

They know they can get in touch with us at any time.

*This is a true story about a real people. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the people featured.

George’s story

George* telephoned. He had been thinking for a while about getting his adoption information and had made a request in the past, but the paperwork had put him off.

When he realised that he did not need to fill out any forms he was relieved.

George lives in rural Victoria and was anxious about coming to Melbourne, so it was decided to meet at a café between Melbourne and where he lived.

He would be unlikely to know anyone, and a private space could be found.

Our Heritage Service team member booked a table in a private section of the café and prepared the paperwork once the records had been located.

It took 5 weeks from the phone call to the meeting.

When the time came to meet and share the records, George and the team member spent several hours together, discussing a range of things.

George spoke of his children, his work, his feelings when learning about his story and his mix of excitement and fear about the next steps.

It was decided that the team member would make contact again in a few weeks to give George time to digest and absorb the information, talk to his family and explore in his own mind what he needed.

He knew that he could call at any time before that.

After a few weeks, the team member called and George had questions about the possible next steps.

If we searched for his birth family, how would it be done?

What if they didn’t like each other?

What if they didn’t want to meet?

He did not want to disturb his birth family, but at the same time, was keen to learn more.

He wanted to know what support he would have and was assured that the Heritage Service could do the searching and the follow up if that was his wish.

*This is a true story about a real person. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the person featured.

Proposed Commonwealth voter identification Bill.

We are concerned about the impact of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021 which was recently introduced to the Australian Parliament. 

Promoted as enhancing the integrity of the election system, there is clear evidence that voter fraud is not a critical issue in Australia. The Australian Electoral Commission has described it as “vanishingly small” and it is generally held to be within an identified group that can be addressed by other means.

If this legislation passes, an individual will not be able to vote in federal elections without a prescribed, valid ID. But here at Uniting, we know there are many good reasons why someone might not have an ID.  People such as those experiencing homelessness or sleeping rough, people escaping violence or experiencing coercive control from a partner, people who may have experienced a significant life trauma or event, or live remotely, or young people who have exited the State’s care and are in the process of transitioning to their adult life may not have access to this documentation, or might not have a recognised permanent address. They are therefore excluded from exercising their legitimate role in the democratic process .

The draft legislation suggests that individuals who don’t bring an ID can complete a ‘declaration vote’. This still requires a permanent address and date of birth, or someone with an ID to vouch for them. This still excludes many of the people we have identified as being at risk of exclusion.

This Bill is already causing confusion. It risks excluding Australians who have a right to have their voice heard. It is likely to restrict access to voting for people experiencing disadvantage.   Uniting Vic.Tas has a long and proud history of supporting people who are experiencing vulnerability.  We stand with them and all Australians who recognise that this Bill would have the unintended consequence of excluding people from our democracy.    

New Equal Opportunity laws

As one of Victoria’s largest faith-based not-for-profit community services organisations, Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the Victoria Government’s reforms to the Equal Opportunity Bill.

The reforms, introduced to the Victorian Parliament today, would make it illegal for faith-based organisations to discriminate against employees because of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

Faith-based organisations that receive government funding to provide services would also not be allowed refuse access to those services based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the changes are an important step forward for equality in Victoria, particularly for the LGBTIQ+ community.

“As a large faith-based organisation, we believe this is about fairness, making people feel safe and supported and giving everybody equal rights,” Ms Pike said.

“We believe these new laws strike the right balance between protecting people from discrimination and supporting the rights of religious organisations to practice their faith.

“Nobody should have to hide who they are or pretend they’re somebody they’re not to keep their job or receive the help they need.

“Every person has the right to be who they are and enjoy freedom of thought, expression, conscience, religion and belief. These laws will make sure these freedoms can’t be used to harm or demean others.

“We believe in providing safe and fully inclusive, nondiscriminatory and welcoming workplaces – it’s integral to who we are.

“Everybody has the right to determine their own sexual orientation, their gender, their martial status and who they are, and these laws will protect that.”

Kerry’s story

Family violence is one of the leading causes of poverty among women across Australia.

With a surge in family violence cases since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an increase in demand for services to support families.

Kerry* is a single mother who has experienced family violence.

As the abuse escalated, Kerry took out an order of protection and fled to safety with her child.

“It was terrifying,” says Kerry.

“We left with the clothes on our back. I had no idea how we were going to survive.”

Left with significant debt, our team were able to provide Kerry with support when she needed it most.

The team walked Kerry through the different aspects relating to her and her child’s safety.

She was referred to a financial counsellor who provided information and advice regarding her debts, income and budgeting.

Our team helped Kerry access the basics like food and toiletries.

Kerry has now found somewhere to live and is working towards setting up a secure future for herself and her child.

“I don’t think I would have been able to do this without the help of Uniting,” says Kerry.

“It’s great to have financial support for rent and I have been able to save money to buy a second-hand washing machine and lounge set.”

*This is a true story about a real person. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the person featured. The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the person featured in this story.

More support to help escape family violence

Uniting Vic.Tas, along with nine UnitingCare Network consortium organisations across Australia, will lead a pilot program providing financial assistance and wrap-around support to assist people to escape family violence.

Uniting Vic.Tas will deliver the Escaping Violence Payment program along with UnitingCare Network Consortium members Wesley Mission (NSW and ACT),

UnitingCare (QLD), Uniting WA, Uniting Communities, UnitingCare Wesley Bowden (SA), Uniting Country SA, Uniting SA, Somerville (NT) and UnitingCare Australia.

The program is being funded by the Commonwealth Government as part of its $1.1 billion commitment in the 2021-22 Federal Budget to help end violence against women and children.

The Escaping Violence Payment program will provide assistance up to $5000 for individuals, including financial assistance of up to $1500 along with goods, services and wrap-around support for anyone leaving a violent partner.

Payments can also be used to help find safe accommodation and connect with support services, access wrap-around support as well as referrals to any other assistance they may need to get back on their feet.

Financial insecurity is one of the main barriers for women that stops them leaving a violent partner and in some cases is a factor which contributes to why some return to an abusive partner.

The community services organisations will be able to arrange referrals or connections with other appropriate services so people can get the additional help to establish a home free from violence.

The program starts on 19 October and is expected to support up to 24,000 people across Australia over the next two years.

Find out more about Escaping Violence Payment.

Aylin’s story

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone – some more than others.

Culturally and linguistically diverse communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, so it’s really important to make sure they know about and can get support, where it is available.

Many people seeking asylum in our country receive little or no income support, making it hard to make ends meet.

Our multicultural programs and services help people find housing and put food on the table.

Before COVID-19, people could access food from our Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre (ASWC).

During lockdowns, food hampers were delivered to people’s homes.

Aylin* is a single mum who reached out to our ASWC last year. She was looking for ways for her and her children to meet new people and make friends. She also asked us for food and toiletries, as she was having difficulty affording the basics.

Aylin is studying for an aged care certificate so she can get a job in the future to provide for her family.

Our team spoke to Aylin on the phone to go over her food needs each week.

The phone calls provided some much-need human contact and we were able to provide her with food that she was familiar with, given her cultural background.

“The (ASWC) staff are so supportive,” says Aylin.

“It’s been a struggle. We don’t have a lot of (financial) support to get by.

“Being able to access food is a big help. And the (ASWC) have given me the chance to access food that we like to eat, which is really nice.”

*This is a true story about a real person. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the person featured. The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the person featured in this story.

Uniting for better mental health

October 10-17 is Mental Health Week.

As we continue to navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, never has it been more important to advocate for and raise awareness of better mental health for all.

Events have been organised across the country to unite Australians of all ages and backgrounds to promote better mental health for everyone.

Find an event near you.

As more and more people reach out to our services, we know how much of an impact the last 18 months has had, and continues to have, on people’s mental health.

We’re here to help.

Pop-up mental health clinics

We recently welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement of 20 pop-up mental health services which will help address the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 pandemic across the state.

We are partnering with Ballarat Health and Monash Health to deliver the fast-tracked, tailored mental health care and support to people who need it the most across Western Victoria, the Wimmera and south and south-eastern Melbourne.

Read more here.

Firefighter Stair Climb

For the fifth year running, the Firefighter Stair Climb is raising money for the Lifeline service we operate in Melbourne.

The stair climb raises funds to improve support services, fund research, remove stigmas and raise awareness of mental health issues like depression, Post Traumatic Stress Injury and suicide.

This year the climb is virtual so you can get involved to benefit your own and other people’s mental health.

Find out how you can get involved.

Mental Health Week Exhibition

During Mental Health Week from 10-17 October, our team in Wimmera will host an art exhibition showcasing work created by Uniting mental health consumers.

The theme this year is ‘Set Yourself Free.’

Keep an eye on the Wimmera Facebook Page for details on how you can view the exhibition.

If you are experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Find out more about Uniting Mental Health Services.

 

Media Statement – Uniting Disability Residential Services

Under a new agreement announced today, Uniting Vic.Tas will transfer its supported independent living services for people with disabilities in the eastern and southern suburbs of Melbourne to specialist disability providers, Scope and Yooralla.

Uniting’s Supported Independent Living (SIL) houses provide 24/7 support for people with disabilities so they can live as independently as possible.

The announcement includes Uniting’s Neurological Support Services which supports people with progressive degenerative disabilities such as Huntington’s Disease.

As part of the agreement, 20 SIL houses are transferring to Scope and the 4 neurological support houses are transferring to Yooralla.

Uniting CEO Bronwyn Pike said a review of Uniting’s residential disability services showed larger disability providers are better placed to deliver SIL services in the southern and eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

“Uniting is large, but our disability residential service is small compared to other providers operating in these areas. Both Scope and Yooralla are better placed to deliver these residential services, as experienced providers across the spectrum of support needs for people with disability,” she said.

“The decision is about finding the best solution for the people that we support. We are working with these specialist disability providers and the National Disability Insurance Agency to ensure a safe and smooth transition for everyone who lives and works in the homes.”

Transfer of these services to Scope and Yooralla is due to be completed by the end of November 2021.

Uniting Vic.Tas will continue to operate SIL houses in other parts of Victoria as well as employment, social support and nursing and allied health services for people with disability.

____________________________________________________________________

Quotes from Dr Jennifer Fitzgerald AM, Chief Executive Officer, Scope Aust.

“As one of the largest supported accommodation disability services providers nationally, we welcome the opportunity to work with Uniting to support customers to live the life they choose, in their homes supported by the staff they know.

We have extensive experience supporting people with intellectual, physical and multiple disabilities, and exceptional knowledge and experience in the NDIS. 

We’re driven by our mission and are excited to support even more people to live as empowered and equal citizens.”

Quotes from Terry Symonds, Chief Executive Officer, Yooralla

“We recognise that these services are people’s homes, so our immediate priority is to undertake close consultation with the residents, their families and staff.

“Yooralla has longstanding expertise in supporting people with disability who have complex health and medical needs to live the life they choose, and it would be an absolute privilege to welcome the Uniting Neurological Support Services residents, families and staff into the Yooralla community.”

Love of Gippsland keeps Di grounded.

Di Fisher knew from a young age that working for Uniting was her calling.

After meeting Uniting (then known as Kilmany Family Care) staff as a 16-year-old student doing work experience at the local Bairnsdale hospital, Di made a decision that would shape the course of her life.

“The values of Kilmany Family Care resonated with me,” says Di.

“It didn’t matter who you were, everyone was treated the same. Everyone was welcome.

“I made the decision then that I would work for (Uniting) and I started to work towards that goal.

“And those values remain the same today.”

The born and bred Bairnsdale local started at Uniting in 1993 and has now dedicated over half her life to the organisation.

“I still have the minutes from the meeting where I was introduced as a new staff member at Kilmany Family Care,” she says.

Since that time, Di has worked in various practitioner roles.

And in 1998, at 29-years-old, she took on her first leadership role as a strategy co-ordinator.

Today, she is the Executive Officer of Uniting Gippsland and Carer Services.

Many things have changed over the years.

“We’ve had a few name changes from Kilmany Family Care, Kilmany Uniting Care, Uniting Care Gippsland and now Uniting Vic.Tas,” says Di.

“When I started there were about 25 staff across Gippsland. Today we have over 125.

“Because the community services sector is very dynamic, there is always growth and change.

“It’s exciting to be part of that change and see the growth in our programs and services here in Gippsland.”

While the organisation has evolved under Di’s watch, some things have remained the same.

“Uniting has always recruited good people. And we have always invested in our staff and helped develop leaders in the sector,” she says.

“And we offer a family friendly environment. I feel like my two children grew up in Uniting .

“Kids often come here after school and do their homework in the lunchroom.

“We’ve had staff move here from Melbourne and other staff have offered them somewhere to stay while they find permanent housing.

“It’s that understanding that we’re a community and we’re all in it together.

“When you’re going through a tough time, we’ve got your back. And that community spirit will never change.”

That spirit has seen the region get through devastating drought, bushfires and floods many times.

“Working in rural and regional environments, people just get on and do what needs to be done,” says Di.

“I love that my colleagues just put their hands up and get the job done, especially during times of crisis. That makes me very proud.

“We have a diverse environment here, from beautiful beaches to remote high country.

“But it really is the people who make the place.

“I feel lucky to call this place home.”

CEO calls on governments to make homelessness a thing of the past.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Brownyn Pike spoke at a forum on housing policy and solutions in Maroondah, alongside Federal Housing Minister Michael Sukkar and Victorian Legislative Assembly Member for Ringwood Dustin Halse.

Addressing the North Ringwood Uniting Church community, Ms Pike said “an affordable, secure, and safe place to live should never be a luxury, it is the foundation for all people to live healthy and dignified lives as active participants in our community.

“In my years of experience I know, and we all know, that so many often quite expensive and complex interventions we offer to people who are in great need can fall down the minute they exit those programmes because they do not have a place to live.

“That notion of a foundation is really important. Safe and secure housing is a major factor in helping get a person’s life on track and address any issues they may experience.”

Ms Pike recognised the commitment of local congregations in running the Maroondah Shelter Project.

“I commend our local congregations for stepping up and leading the provision of services for people experiencing homelessness in this community. I also commend them for taking this initiative to engage in the public conversation about this important issue.”

Ms Pike spoke about poor income security, rental affordability, social housing stock and wrap-around support as interlinked factors that drive homelessness in our communities.

“Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. Households on low income, who live week-to-week, are unable to absorb the financial repercussion that result from disruptive life events such as illness, injury, family violence, relationship breakdown, job loss or a death in the family.

“These can be the real tipping points for people.

“The current Jobseeker rate of $44 a day for a single person is simply not enough for people to live on and it’s certainly not enough for people to find long-term secure and affordable housing.

“Yet, the Federal Government’s Disaster Support Payments, while welcome for many people, leave out those on Jobseeker and Youth Allowance payments because they did not have formal work arrangements to lose the required eight or more hours of paid work to be eligible.”

Talking about rental affordability Ms Pike said that low affordability combined with low housing supply is creating critical situations in communities.

“Across the nation, less than 1% of rental properties were affordable for a single person on any Government income support payment during the rental snapshot in March. The Victorian Rental Report shows that in Maroondah, the proportion of affordable rental lettings in fact decreased.

“There are less houses in your community that people could even think about renting, even if they had additional resources.

On the issue of social housing stock, Ms Pike recognised the Victorian Government’s Big Housing Build project and Federal Government’s recent Safe Places initiative as good steps in the right direction.

“Uniting is excited to partner with both levels of government and have committed $20 million of our own funding to help build 500 new affordable housing projects around Victoria and Tasmania over the next five years.”

At the same time, Ms Pike also noted that the Federal Government spending on building new social housing has declined in the recent years.

“The proportion of funding towards National Housing and Homelessness Agreement has not been indexed for inflation and population growth and so in real terms declined significantly since 2013.”

“Increase in Rental Assistance funding, while necessary, only helps with the existing housing stock and doesn’t provide opportunity to increase supply of affordable housing.”

Alongside the provision of safe and affordable housing, Ms Pike noted the importance of providing integrated and wraparound support necessary for people to maintain their homes.

“When the underlying issues are not addressed, and people cycle back into homelessness.

“Uniting’s housing growth plans will support our wider service provision role in addressing vulnerability in the community. With our multiple service streams, we can provide wrap around support to those who need it.”

In concluding, Ms Pike urged Federal, State and Territory governments to “work together to do as much as they possibly can to make homelessness a thing of the past and not the reality of contemporary life in Maroondah, or anywhere else in a wealthy country like Australia.”

Find out more about Uniting housing and homelessness services.

PHOTO: Bronwyn Pike at the opening of Marrageil Baggarrook.

Thank you to our foster and kinship carers.

As we mark Foster and Kinship Care Weeks, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, our compassionate and committed carers, for the wonderful work you do.

You open your homes and hearts to provide safe and supportive environments for children and young people to grow and thrive.

For this, we can’t thank you enough.

We know that COVID has thrown up some challenges in recent times, as you keep children and young people safe and connected.

So I’m sure that this year’s theme of “Adaptability: Caring through COVID and the changed care environment” will resonate with many of you.

During the ongoing lockdowns, many of you have taken on more responsibilities and had to deal with changes in the way you get the support you need.

We are deeply grateful for your resilience, creativity and commitment.

I hope you can take some time this week to reflect on the challenging yet rewarding role you have taken on. It can’t always be easy, but I hope the joys far outweigh the challenges.

Thank you for your compassion and resilience. Thank you for keeping the children and young people in your care safe and happy during these times of uncertainty.

Yours sincerely,

Bronwyn Pike
CEO Uniting Vic.Tas

New pop-up mental health services in Melbourne’s south, south east and western Victoria

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the Victorian Government’s announcement of $13.3 million for 20 pop-up mental health services which will help address the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 pandemic across the state.

We will be partnering with Ballarat Health and Monash Health to deliver the fast-tracked, tailored mental health care and support to people who need it the most across Western Victoria and the Wimmera and across south and south-eastern Melbourne.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the pop-up services will be staffed by trained clinicians and would open in the coming weeks with a dedicated triage and referral hotline and website for people to book appointments.

“We know how much of an impact the last 18 months have had on people’s mental health, how many people are really struggling,” Ms Pike said.

“There’s no doubt lockdowns and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the sense of loneliness, isolation and disconnection for some people.

“These pop-up services will allow people to access all-important mental health care and support close to home.

“With Ballarat Health we’ll be delivering support to communities right across Western Victoria and the Wimmera including Moorabool, Hepburn, Ballarat, Golden Plains, Ararat, Pyrenees, Northern Grampians, Horsham, Hindmarsh, West Wimmera and Yarrambiack.

“In Melbourne’s south and south-eastern suburbs, we’ll be working with EACH to provide for communities across Dandenong, Casey, Cardinia, Frankston, Kingston, Bayside, Monash and Glen Eira.

“Around 1 in 5 people will experience an issue with their mental health at some point in their lives and if it’s not yourself, it might be a family member or a friend. It doesn’t discriminate, so we’re pleased these centres will be able to provide that all important support.”

Find out more about Uniting Mental Health services

Uniting supports new state Equal Opportunity laws

Uniting Vic.Tas, one of Victoria and Tasmania’s largest community services providers, fully supports the equal opportunity legislation which will be introduced by the Victorian Government later this year.

The reforms will make it unlawful for religious organisations and schools to discriminate against employees and consumers because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or other protected attributes.

Under the planned changes, religious-based organisations that receive government funding to provide services, such as Uniting Vic.Tas, will not be able to refuse to provide those services based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said fairness and equality is at the heart of the everything the organisation does.

“We provide safe and fully inclusive, nondiscriminatory and welcoming environments which celebrate the diversity of our employees and consumers,” Ms Pike said.

“We believe every person has the right to be who they are and enjoy freedom of thought, expression, conscience, religion and belief.

“However, expression of religion and belief shouldn’t harm or demean others and it shouldn’t be automatically privileged over other rights, such as the right of a person to determine their own sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Nobody should have to hide who they are or pretend they’re somebody they’re not to keep their job or to receive the vital support services we provide to vulnerable people right across Victoria every day.

“These changes strike the right balance between freedom of religion and equality, particularly for the LGBTIQ+ community.

“We think the proposed new laws are an important step forward for equality in Victoria, protecting people from discrimination and supporting the rights of religious organisations to practice their faith.”

Read more about Uniting’s pledge.

A million steps for mental health

On Saturday 11 September, 600 firefighters and other emergency service personnel would have “stepped up to fight depression, PTSI and suicide” by climbing the 28 floors of Crown Metropol Hotel for this year’s Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb.  

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the event is again taking place virtually, with people encouraged to collectively climb a “million steps for mental health.”

For the fifth year running, the event is raising money for Lifeline services in Melbourne, operated by Uniting Vic.Tas.

With the with climb going virtual, anyone can get involved.

You can even join with a few others and make a team of up to four people.

From World Suicide Prevention Day on 9 September until World Mental Health Day on 10 October, you can get climbing – whether it be your back steps, some stairs at the local park or even a milk crate in the lounge room.

More than 3000 Australians take their own lives every year, so the challenge is for everyone to climb more than 3000 steps over the next month.

The stair climb aims to raise $500,000 for Lifeline, Fortem and the 000 Foundation to improve support services, fund research, remove stigmas and raise awareness of mental health issues like depression, post-traumatic stress injury and suicide.

Register here and start climbing today!

ALERT – Afghan refugee foster care social media posts

We have been made aware of posts on social media and information circulating in the community purporting to be from Uniting relating to the fostering of Afghan refugee children.

These posts have not been authorised by Uniting and are fake and misleading.

We are asking our supporters and followers to ignore any social media posts or flyers on this issue.

Please do not provide your personal information or bank details or click on any links provided in the correspondence.

Uniting’s KOMAK program provides support to the Afghan community in south-east Melbourne.  Find out more.

Bringing Victoria’s Afghan community together

Uniting Vic.Tas last night gathered a wide range of Afghan community leaders, support agencies and Victorian Government representatives to discuss our response to the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.

As part of the online discussion, organised by our Komak (which means help or support in Dari) program, ideas were floated on how agencies and the Government could best support Victoria’s Afghan community during this time.

The Komak program is a specialised team that champions the local Afghan community and works to develop resilience and wellbeing and build community connections and engagement across Melbourne’s south east.

The gathering was called in response to the growing anxiety and distress being felt by Victoria’s Afghan community to the situation in Afghanistan.

It was attended by Victorian Government MPs, Victoria Police, Victorian Multicultural Commission, councils and local faith based and cultural support groups and associations.

Uniting Vic.Tas Senior Manager and event organiser Rabia Sikander urged the Afghan community to reach out with plenty of local support and resources available.

“The situation in Afghanistan is dire, there’s fear, there’s uncertainty and we know local Afghans is really hurting,” Ms Sikander said.

“Many people in our community have family and friends back in Afghanistan and they don’t know what will happen to them, if they will be able to escape and what their future holds.

“By gathering support agencies, key community leaders and politicians, we wanted to not only express our concern, but discuss the help that’s available and to push our Federal Government to do more.

“We want the Afghan community to know that we’re here for you. If you want to talk, we have people that can talk to you and to advocate on your behalf. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us.”

If you need support, phone Komak on 8792 8999 or contact us.

Changing lives.

Even the smallest act of kindness can brighten someone’s day.

Your support has the power to change lives. Here’s how you can get involved.

Send Christmas cheer

Uniting Christmas cards are now available. This year we have 5 designs, including 4 new ones, for you to choose from.

Proceeds from card sales will support people in crisis this Christmas.

Order your Christmas card pack now.

Food For Families

For 30 years, our Food For Families campaign has collected food to share with families and individuals doing it tough.

We want to support everyone who comes to us – but we can’t do it alone. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our emergency relief services across Victoria and Tasmania have experienced unprecedented demand.

We need your help all year round so we can continue providing food and other essential items to people in their time of need.

Register today.
T 1800 668 426
foodforfamilies.org.au

Melbourne Marathon

We’re encouraging people to run or walk for Uniting at this year’s Melbourne Marathon event to help make a difference for people doing it tough.

We are one of the associated charities for this year’s event, to be held on Sunday 10 October. There are 5 distances to choose from: 42.195km marathon, 21.1km half marathon, 10km run, 5km run and 3km walk.

Register now

Coffee Cup Challenge

Join us for the Coffee Cup Challenge. By making a small sacrifice regularly you’ll make a big difference for people in need.

You can join the challenge from 1 October, marking International Coffee Day, to 1 March, which is Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday as it is also known. On Pancake Day, or around that date, we encourage you to celebrate with pancakes or a morning tea.

All funds raised from the Coffee Cup Challenge will support people experiencing crisis, vulnerability, and disadvantage.

Find out more about the Coffee Cup Challenge now.

Pancake Day 2022 is Tuesday 1 March. Register your interest.

Make a donation

Your generosity will help us provide essential services that are not covered by government funding. A gift today or a bequest for the future will make a positive and lasting difference to individuals, families and communities.

Make a donation now

Fundraise for us

There are so many new, safe and creative ways to stay in touch and raise funds for your local community. If you have found innovative ways to stay connected with friends and family we’d love to hear from you.

T 1800 060 543
[email protected]

Volunteer with us

Our 2400 volunteers are a vital and much loved part of our organisation. They give their precious time to help deliver our services. We rely on their support – and we’re always on the lookout
for more enthusiastic people.

Become a volunteer

A safe space for older women in crisis.

Marrageil Baggarrook crisis accommodation facility offers a safe space for women to live while they receive assistance to secure longterm housing, as well as help with finances or mental health and any other support services they may need.

Marrageil Baggarrook means “Divine Women,” and is a name given to Uniting by the Wurundjeri Community.

The project is the result of a partnership between the Victorian Government, Uniting Vic.Tas, the Uniting Church, Community Housing Limited and the Oak Building Group.

“This development has been a long time in the making with great dedication and advocacy from the Mountview Uniting Church congregation,” says Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike.

“The church played a significant role in the planning of the units, with members generously donating their time to help prepare the submission for funding to the Victorian Government.

“Partnerships like this with congregations across Victoria and Tasmania are vital to supporting our work.

“These 8 independent living units have been decades in the making. It was a privilege to be in attendance and see it open its doors for the first time, especially as many people have worked so hard over the years to make it happen.

“Until now, there have been very few services available which provide a safe space offering both temporary accommodation and support services specifically tailored to older women.

“It’s rewarding to see a project which has been the subject of so much hard work and planning made a reality. We hope the facility will make a difference to the lives of many in the coming years.”

For more information about how we support people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Thank you for transforming lives this winter.

The reduction in the JobSeeker payment earlier this year, combined with the end of JobKeeper, has seen more people slip
into crisis.

Many people are coming to us for the first time, from international students who can’t make ends meet, to mums and dads in secure jobs who suddenly find themselves out of work and struggling to pay the bills or put food on the table.

But you have made a difference for so many.

Thanks to you, so far nearly $600,000 has been raised through this year’s Winter Share Appeal.

Across Victoria and Tasmania, over 1671 people are being kept warm thanks to donations of blankets, swags and winter woollies.

An update on Sharon and Jhez

Sharon and Jhez shared their stories in our recent Winter Share Appeal.

Sharon (pictured above) moved to Australia in 2019 to marry her childhood sweetheart. But like so many, Sharon and her husband felt the strain
of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Sharon’s marriage fell apart and she left the family home with her children, she was referred to ur team in Shepparton where she was able to get the support she needed to get back on her feet.

In fact, Sharon went on to secure a job with Uniting.

We are pleased to report that Sharon and her husband have reconciled.

“We are going to counselling to ensure we stay on track. We’re thriving now. We’re communicating well and we’re very happy. Sometimes you need some expert help and advice to get you through a challenging time,” says Sharon.

Sharon is still working at Uniting and has taken on a new role helping jobseekers upskill and find the right job for them.

“I can’t thank Uniting enough. I received support in my time of need, and I’ve been able to turn a bad situation into a positive one,” says Sharon

Jhez reached out to our team 11 years ago when she was 7 months pregnant with her first child. Her relationship had fallen apart, and her finances crumbled. Jhez connected with Uniting and received food and housing support.

For his 10th birthday in February last year, Jhez’s son Troy asked friends to donate to Uniting instead of buying gifts.

On Mother’s Day this year, Jhez turned 40. She celebrated with family and friends.

“My husband treated me to a day out with friends, including a spa treatment and a night out in the city. I had a wonderful weekend surrounded by the people I love,” says Jhez.

Find out more about our support to multicultural communities.

A new lease of life for BreezeWay.

For 23 years, a dedicated team of staff and volunteers have served over 400,000 hot meals to Ballarat’s most vulnerable people at our BreezeWay service in Dana Street.

We recently opened a larger BreezeWay service in Albert Street. This new building has space for up to 80 people to sit down for a meal. That’s more than triple the capacity of the former
dining room.

The new building is fully accessible and includes an emergency relief centre with a food pantry and facilities including showers, washing machines and clothes dryers.

All of this would not be possible without the invaluable support of the local community and people like you.

Our General Manager for North and West Victoria, Annette Kelly-Egerton says the new BreezeWay facility now provides a better service than ever before to the Ballarat community.

“The new BreezeWay is a sanctuary where people in need can drop in for a chat and something to eat in a caring and compassionate space,” says Annette.

“As well as a hot meal, people can have a shower, a change of clothes and even connect with local housing and health support services.

“We’re extremely grateful for the support and generosity of the Oliver Foundation, Rotary Club of Alfredton, S.J. Weir and Central Highlands Water, who have all helped make this project happen.

“The larger kitchen allows us to prepare more meals and provide hospitality training. There’s also a social enterprise area, where we’re hoping to offer employment and skill development opportunities in the future.

“We also have a larger food pantry and on-site staff providing a ‘one stop shop’ supporting people in a friendly, welcoming and safe environment.” Jill Oliver from The Oliver Foundation says they are thrilled to see the project come to life.

“We’re proud to support this project, which focuses on some of Ballarat’s most vulnerable people,” says Jill.

“It’s wonderful that people can sit here together again, share a meal, connect and be there for each other.”

Pictured (left to right): Deb Robertson from the Rotary Club of Alfredton, Jill Oliver from the Oliver Foundation, Denise Lyons and Malcolm Roberts, both from the Rotary Club of Alfredton

Vaccinating our vulnerable

Uniting Vic.Tas and Ballarat Community Health teamed up this week to provide the COVID-19 vaccination to some of the region’s most vulnerable.

Fifty-five vulnerable people who we have supported through our Street 2 Home program, as well as those who are regulars at our BreezeWay community meals program and our emergency relief service, received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Seventeen Uniting Vic.Tas staff who work on the frontline in homelessness and housing support and emergency relief also rolled up their sleeves to get the jab at BreezeWay.

Marina Henning, who we helped into permanent accommodation a few months ago, told ABC, many disadvantaged people didn’t have the means to book or access information on the vaccination rollout.

“I was a bit anxious and I was unsure about how to go about getting it until a worker from Uniting contacted me and booked me in and this day has been great,” she said.

“I’ve already tried to encourage a few others [to get vaccinated] and I’ll keep encouraging them.”

Uniting Vic.Tas Senior Manager Homelessness Adam Liversage said he was thrilled with the turnout.

“It shows there’s a lot of anxiety out there regarding COVID-19 and they want to get the shot.

“If our vulnerable people in our community are coming forward, it’s really setting an example for our community.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, everyone is susceptible to COVID-19 and everyone needs to get the jab so we can all get on with our lives.”

We want to thank Ballarat Community Health for their support in providing the vaccinations, nurses and support staff on the day.

 

Pictured: Uniting support worker getting vaccinated.

An open letter of sincere gratitude and encouragement

Dearest friends,

The past 18 months have been trying for us all, including communities within the Uniting Church in Australia and our organisations. The COVID-19 pandemic and its cycle of lockdowns, re-openings, restrictions and interruptions, has touched almost every aspect of our lives. Many of the things we once regarded as ‘normal’ may never return.

We have all made sacrifices, big and small. Parents have faced the challenges of home-schooling, often whilst trying to work from home. Families have been unable to visit loved ones to share important celebrations. Hard-working, proud people turned to others for support, many for the first time, as their work has disappeared. Refugees and foreign students have been unable to work or access government supports. Many people with family overseas have been separated from them for long periods of time. Small business owners have had to let staff go or have closed permanently. The list goes on.

At the same time, the pandemic has also brought out the best in many of us.

Where would many of us be if it weren’t for caring neighbours? People have held out a helping hand to those in need without concern for the potential risk to themselves. They have put the needs of their community first, demonstrating a true love of neighbour.

And where would we be if it weren’t for the essential workers? Our own health and family support workers, aged care and disability support workers, and early years educators who have worked tirelessly to provide care and support to others? Not to mention the people working in supermarkets, transport, teachers, medical staff and everyone else who have enabled most of us to remain in the relative safety of our homes.

Their stories fill us with gratitude and also with hope.

In many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed who we are as a nation by providing us with the opportunity to become part of a more compassionate community. It will be many months, or even years, before we find ourselves in a world where our hopes and plans are not driven by Covid case numbers.

Yet there is no doubt that vaccination is a key part of moving to that new normality.

As the vaccines roll out, everyone has a personal decision to make. For some, getting vaccinated is a simple choice; another way to support their community and in particular those who are most vulnerable. For others, there are factors that make it more complicated.

Many of those working with older people or people with disability see vaccination as part of their commitment to the wellbeing and safety of the people they work alongside every day.

For others, vaccination is our best chance to achieve that elusive COVID normal. It is our best hope to be able to visit families and friends freely, to plan weddings and celebrations, to be able to travel and see loved ones, for businesses to open with confidence and secure local employment.

We all long to be able to make plans without the fear of cancellations and lockdowns.

For love of neighbour, for the wellbeing and safety of our community, we encourage everyone to carefully consider vaccination. If you’re unsure, talk to your doctor and make your decision based on what vaccination means for you, your families, and your community.

We’ve seen over the last year and a half that individual acts of kindness can have a huge impact on the lives of many people around them. Let this same generosity of spirit continue to guide us now.

We all have an important part to play. Together we can make a safer community for everyone.

Yours in gratitude,

Rev Denise Liersch
Moderator

Jude Munro AO
Chair
Uniting Vic.Tas

Raelene Thompson
Chair
Uniting AgeWell

Lindsey Mann
Chair
U Ethical

Download the origianal letter as a PDF

Planting seeds, renewing pride.

Elva’s garden has always been a source of pride and pleasure. But, as she grew older, her thriving garden of flowers became too much to manage.   

“Mum used to get so embarrassed about her garden because of the way it used to look,” says Elva’s daughter.

But at 92, Elva chose to make a change. Using her Home Care Package, she contacted Uniting, securing support to care for her garden.

Since that first phone call, Elva’s front yard has undergone quite a makeover. Our teams have tidied up, turned the soil and transformed her garden, creating a yard that Elva can be proud of.

“It’s so serene and beautiful – I’m delighted!” Elva says, delighted to be able to enjoy a garden – created just for her.

When the pandemic’s influence made her feel isolated and lonely, Elva enjoyed the distraction of watering her plants and watching them thrive.

She’s even inspired the local community. Her neighbours regularly pop by to take in the view, mulching and improving their gardens to match.

Justifiably proud of the progress, she loves to watch her plants grow – from her armchair inside or in the sun on her deck.

“There has been a lot of changes made to her garden, which has given her meaning to look outside at the flowers,” says Elva’s Uniting support person, Sue Sodhi.

“It has been an absolute honour for me to support Elva to live healthy, positive and productive life at home”.

Find out more about Uniting Aged Care services.

Paul’s story.

Social isolation is a crippling feeling.

Paul Camilleri knows this all too well.

Diagnosed with bipolar in 2001, Paul has battled the stigma attached with mental health for most of his life.

“I’ve always felt a bit different than other people,” Paul said.

“I was bullied a lot at school. And I was the outcast in my family growing up.

“And this caused tension, which came across as disappointment.

“After my diagnosis, people stopped reaching out.

“I used to go out walking my dog just to interact with others,” he added.

At his lowest, Paul found himself homeless, living in a friend’s shed for seven months.

Bad financial decisions and a workplace injury left him with little savings and income.

After reaching out for support, Paul was placed in transitional housing.

He has since found a public housing property and has used Uniting services to connect with people in his community.

Now the 54-year-old is turning his attention to helping others.

“I’m the best I’ve been ever,” he said.

“I’ve developed a newfound confidence and I’ve realised that I’ve got a voice and if I speak up, hopefully I can help others.”

Paul recently completed a course in public speaking.

When Paul was approached to speak at the Uniting Vic.Tas Winter Breakfast in May 2019, he didn’t hesitate.

“I’d like to be a stigma warrior and break down some of the barriers people face because of mental illness or disability,” he said.

“Everyone has a place and deserves to feel like they belong.”

You can support the most vulnerable in our community. Donate to Share Sunday now.

Ending homelessness together.

This Homelessness Week, we’re joining forces with organisations across the country to help put an end to homelessness.

“We know how much of a difference having a home has on every aspect of a person’s life, particularly for people in crisis,” says Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike.

“Lack of access to affordable housing directly affects people’s ability to look forward to a positive future and that’s why we’ve been proud to partnered with the Victorian Government on its Homelessness 2 Home program.

“There’s strong 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 support for mental health or alcohol and drug issues they may have.

“Across Victoria, we’ve been able to secure homes for 188 people. This is 188 people who would’ve been on the streets had it not been for this program, our dedicated outreach workers, real estate agents and property owners.

“The Homelessness 2 Home program shows that if we work together, we can end homelessness and that has to be our goal.”

Uniting Vic.Tas is also part of the Everybody’s Home campaign, calling on governments to deliver a better, fairer housing system.

Currently, a lack of social and affordable housing is leading to record levels of homelessness.

You can show your support for the campaign to signing the Everybody’s Home petition.

Here, some of the people who have accessed our homelessness services share their stories:

Mike’s story

Sean’s story

Rachael’s story

Kylie’s story

Cliff’s story

Graeme’s story

Mike’s story.

Mike has a history of homelessness and ongoing mental health issues.

He has been homeless on and off for many years and has moved between boarding houses, motels and staying with family members.

During the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Mike’s long-term partner died of an accidental drug overdose.

His alcohol consumption increased and after a short stay with family, there was a domestic dispute that resulted in Mike leaving the home.

At this point all family contact and support ended and Mike moved to another rooming house.

The lack of family support and stable accommodation meant that Mike’s mental health declined and he started drinking even more.

Although unstable accommodation was at the core of his issues, Mike had little options.

Mike accessed temporary and crisis accommodation for many months, making it difficult to seek support for his alcohol and mental health challenges.

Mike’s first suicide attempt came shortly after his arrival at a rooming house.

He spoke about the mental strain that his insecure housing was causing and his inability to cope in a shared living environment.

Our team linked Mike with mental health support and managed to get him into a crisis house where he could live independently.

Mike engaged with all support services offered  to him and thrived living independently.

At this point we realised his suitability for the Homelessness to a Home program.

He moved to his new apartment in June of 2021.

Mike often expresses how thankful he is for this opportunity.

He says he doesn’t feel as though he would even be here now if it hadn’t been for the services that helped him find a property of his own.

Having stable accommodation has given Mike the confidence to join local mental health support groups, access alcohol and other drug services and he is now looking to start a music group with friends.

He is now working towards rebuilding his relationship with his family.

*Name changed to protect identity.

You can show your support by signing the Everybody’s Home petition or donating now.

Sean’s story.

Sean’s experience with homelessness spans over 35 years.

Sean moved out of home at the age of just 14 to escape family violence and drug use.

“My parents managed a pub in Sydney, and it wasn’t an ideal environment for a child. It was a toxic environment and I knew I had to get out,” says Sean.

“I managed to get myself a job at the local Pizza Hut to get by and stayed with various friends throughout the years.

“I got by, but I was hanging around Kings Cross and witnessed a lot of things I shouldn’t have at a young age.”

In his early twenties, Sean started an apprenticeship as a chef.

However, mental health issues prevented him from pursuing his dream of becoming a chef.

Over the years, Sean spent time living in various cities and towns in NSW and Queensland.

At times he lived in public housing, other times he stayed with friends.

And when things were really bad, he lived in his car.

Eight years ago, Sean relocated to Tasmania for a fresh start.

He managed to settle down on the North West Coast for a few years, finding stable housing.

However, when a traumatic event seen him turn to drugs to cope, Sean was thrust back into homelessness.

Sean moved from town to town, living in his car.

“It’s tough, but I guess it’s all I’ve know from a young age,” he says.

When he moved to Hobart at the start of 2019, Sean reached out to Uniting for support.

Sean is now living in crisis accommodation as he waits for public housing.

“I have a roof over my head at the moment, so I feel like I’m in a good place,” says Sean.

“I’m still considered homeless but it’s a step in the right direction.”

He accesses food through Uniting’s emergency relief service.

And he is now a regular at NoBucks community meals program, which provides free, hot meals each weekday for people in crisis.

“I really enjoy the social interactions at NoBucks,” he says.

“I can talk to people and have a laugh, which takes my mind off things.”

“The team (at Uniting) have been a great help. I can’t thank them enough.”

You can show your support by signing the Everybody’s Home petition or donating now.

Rachael’s story.

In March, Rachael was approved for a home through the Homelessness To Home program.

Rachael, 23, has been homeless since her mother kicked her out of the family home at just 18 years.

She has couch surfed, stayed in temporary accommodation, crisis accommodation and moved from house to house, living in at least 26 different places in the past few years.

“I have always been homeless or couch surfing or in Reid’s and never really had a place to call home,” she said.

“I have lived with people in the past which didn’t work out. I would move in with partners and most of those relationships turned into domestic abuse.

“Just knowing I am going to have a place that is mine, a place to call home, a place that is safe, honestly meant the world to me.”

Rachael first got in touch with Uniting the day she got off the plane and returned to Ballarat from Queensland after living with her dad.

With nowhere to live, she was supported to stay in transitional housing managed by Uniting.

From transitional housing, Rachael moved to youth accommodation, to live with partners, to a drug detox facility, back to Reid’s, to a friend’s, to a hotel and the cycle continued.

Moves were driven by relationship breakdowns, family violence and financial difficulty. She has been on Youth Allowance and then JobSeeker payments.

Rachael explained how she had experienced mental health issues, was a victim of significant family violence and had suffered drug and alcohol addiction throughout the past few years.

To be eligible for program, people must have been placed into crisis accommodation in hotels and motels from March to December 2020 and have a history of rough sleeping or chronic homelessness.

“Before, I had basically given up. I thought life wasn’t going to get any better. It never had for me,” she says.

“I think I might have been wrong. I was so convinced nothing would get better. Now I have my mental health in check, I am not using drugs or alcohol, I am looking after myself, life has just gotten so much better.

“Stability will definitely make it easier. The fact I have my Ps (probationary driver’s licence) will also make it easier and it will get a lot easier when I get a car.

“This program has changed my life for the better.”

You can show your support by signing the Everybody’s Home petition or donating now.

Kylie’s story.

The absence of a safe and secure home can have a devastating impact on families. Kylie knows this all too well.

Kylie had been living in a private rental property with her partner, son and daughter-in-law until early 2018.

When her partner was sent to jail, Kylie was no longer able to afford the rent and the family were  evicted from the place they had called home for many years.

With no-where to go, the family spent the next 3-and-a-half months living in their car.

“I felt sick to the stomach when we had no-where to go as I’d never been in that situation before,” says Kylie.

“I got really depressed and kept putting myself down.

“I told my son and daughter-in-law that I was no good for them because I couldn’t support them.

“It’s the lowest I’d ever felt, and I didn’t want to be here.”

After months of struggling, the family were put in touch with Uniting.

They were provided with emergency accommodation in a motel in Ballarat, before moving into a friend’s house while they waited for transitional housing to become available.

When that placement broke down, the family spent the next 2 weeks living in their car again.

“It seemed like we were stuck in this awful cycle,” says Kylie.

“But thankfully we reached out to Uniting again and they put us in a motel for a couple of days and then found us transitional housing in Daylesford.”

That was 2 years ago, the family have been living in the Uniting Housing property while they wait for a public housing property to become available.

During that time, Kylie’s son and daughter-in-law welcomed a baby boy into the family.

“I’m so grateful to Uniting for putting a roof over our heads before my grandson was born,” says Kylie.

“My mental health is much better and we’re all doing really well now.

“Any time I need to talk, the team from Uniting have been there.

“The future is looking much brighter for us than it was this time 2 years ago.”

You can show your support by signing the Everybody’s Home petition or donating now.

Cliff’s story

Cliff is one of the growing number of people who has reached out to Uniting Vic.Tas housing and homelessness services.

Cliff had been living in a caravan near Ballarat after finding himself homeless through the breakdown of his marriage.

The 65-year-old reached out to Uniting when his savings dried up, leaving him with just $90 in his bank account and unable to afford the weekly caravan park rent.

“It was a scary time. Living in a caravan isn’t ideal, but at least it’s somewhere to sleep at night,” says Cliff.

Cliff tried to sign up to receive Centrelink payments, but was told this would have to be done online.

“I struggled, because I’m not very good at using computers,” says Cliff.

“It was daunting, and I didn’t know what to do.

“I feel really lucky that I found Uniting and they’ve been able to help. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

Cliff now receives Centerlink payments and has applied for public housing.

Cliff says while he wanted to seek help earlier, his mental health battles stopped him from doing so.

“I wasn’t in a good place, mentally,” he said.

“I knew I needed help, but I was in a rut.

“I’m glad I did though.

“People need to know there are places like Uniting that can help. You don’t have to do it on your own.”

You can show your support by signing the Everybody’s Home petition or donating now.

Graeme’s story.

Graeme is a Uniting Vic.Tas consumer involved in the Victorian Government’s Homelessness to a Home program.

Here, Graeme share’s his story.

“Recently, I moved into a house in Avoca, Victoria after being homeless for over 13 months.

I lived here a long time ago when my children were young. I am one of the few lucky ones to have found a home under the Homelessness to a Home program.

It all started for me in late March 2020 when I was asked to leave the private rental property in Hamilton I was living in at the time.

I was staying with a friend of mine and her property manager didn’t approve of me staying there.

This was really tough because it was in late February and March which was when COVID-19 first hit, and my options were limited.

I was only going to stay there for a short time, and I had stored my belongings and my furniture in her garage.

We tried to reason with the property manager and assured him that I was doing everything I could to find a rental property, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

His response was that I need to leave, or else he would evict both me and my friend.

I obviously couldn’t take the risk of my friend getting evicted because of me, especially when she had gone out of her way to help me.

By this point she became scared and anxious at the thought that she might get kicked out.

I gathered my things and left the house because I didn’t want to get her in any further trouble. I was homeless for the next 13 months.

I initially lived in my car.

I kept everything with me and moved around to avoid loitering.

It was tough and I felt overwhelmed.

I tried to get support in the Hamilton area.

I rang up Lifeline for support.

I also rang a lot of the homeless services.

I kept going around in circles, being given multiple numbers to call and getting referred back to the same services again.

There are limited services in Hamilton and while they try to support people living rough, rentals are hard to come by and there just aren’t enough shelters in the region.

When the limited accommodation that such services can offer runs out, homeless people are often back to living on the streets.

At times, I was living in motel rooms in Hamilton.

I moved over to Warrnambool when I found a cheaper motel.

But the price went up while I was living there and I had to pay $590 a week on my Centrelink Disability Pension Payment.

It wasn’t easy living in these motel rooms. It was a life of constantly being adrift.

How are you supposed to get through it? What are you supposed to do?

I was applying for private rentals through estate agents and landlords throughout this time, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Applying to rentals and accessing services is much harder when you don’t have a stable living location or access to internet.

After a few months I got to the point where I basically gave up.

How are you supposed to get through it? What are you supposed to do? Who are you supposed to talk to?

I never thought I would ever be homeless, but once I was, I despaired that I would never find a home again.

The Homelessness to a Home program was introduced to me by a Salvation Army Connect housing worker.

I remember a phone conversation saying to her ‘look, I don’t think I’ll get a place ever.

I’ve tried that many rental agents.

I’ve replied to that many. I’ve viewed that many properties.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the Salvation Army Connect contacted Uniting Vic.Tas on my behalf.

I remember sitting with the Salvation Army housing worker in the car and saying ‘Well, I don’t think you can get me a house, can you?’. And less than a week later, Uniting found me a home.

Imagine my delight when he presented me with an 18 month-lease.

I didn’t have a phone at the time, so most of the communication was on email until we met.

Imagine my delight when he presented me with an 18 month-lease.

It was a targeted and tailored  package that would give me support for that period.

I knew then that they had been doing a lot of work behind the scenes.

To be honest I was stunned and amazed because I had pretty much given up on the chance of finding a home by that point.

I mean, there are other people out there in dire situations, domestic violence cases for instance and that’s not my situation.

So, it’s fair to say that I am impressed with the marvellous job that they had done.

I moved into a house in Avoca in May and am signed up till at least October 2022.

For the first time in thirteen months, I feel safe. I’ve got security and a roof over my head.

I have peace of mind knowing that I’m not going to have to go back to sleeping in my car for a while.

This is not just my story and there are many others who go through the same thing day in, day out.

I’m just one of the lucky ones to have a place where I can shelter for the time being.

I’m so thankful to all support workers who’ve helped me over the time.

They really do deserve a medal for everything they’ve done for me. I never expected half of this.

The questions I ask is why it is so hard to get a private rental?

But the questions I ask is why it is so hard to get a private rental?

Why are landlords and estate agents so difficult to deal with these days? Why are support services struggling to home people all over the country?

I’m telling my story so that people know what it’s  like and why the system needs to be fixed.

Nobody should have to go through what I have.

If you’re out on the streets you’ve got nothing.

The thought of having to go out on the streets and be homeless again scares me.

It’s one that I never want to go back to.”

You can show your support by signing the Everybody’s Home petition or donating now.

Tree change brings unexpected benefits.

Jannine had longed to leave the hustle and bustle of Melbourne behind.

So earlier this year, Jannine and her husband packed up and relocated to Gippsland.

“My husband accepted a job in Gippsland over 2 years ago, so he was commuting a lot,” says Jannine.

“It was in our 5-year plan to make the move.”

After purchasing a home with acreage, the couple are “absolutely loving” their tree change.

“(The move) has been a big help for our mental health. We are much more relaxed,” says Jannine.

“When you walk down the street, people smile and say hello. The people are so lovely.”

The couple’s 24-year-old daughter still lives in Melbourne and travels to Gippsland every 2 weeks.

“She calls it her happy place,” says Jannine.

“She comes down to relax and recharge. It’s really helping with her studies.”

Jannine has worked for Uniting for 12 years, supporting vulnerable families experiencing alcohol and other drug, mental health and family violence challenges.

“I was able to transfer from Melbourne to Gippsland, which was really handy for me. That’s what I like about Uniting, you have the opportunity to base yourself in different locations.”

“It’s been exciting to meet and work with new people and understand the community connections they have.

“Even though I’m doing the same job, it feels like it has slowed down a bit.

“And one of the big bonuses for me is car parking. I was paying $10 a day in Melbourne. Here, it’s free. And there is always plenty of parking available.”

Jannine encourages others considering a tree change to take the leap of faith.

“If your circumstances are right, I would say do it.”

While Jannine and her husband have spent a significant amount of time in lockdowns since relocating, they are looking forward to exploring their new community.

“I’m keen to join the local rock and roll dancing group,” says Jannine.

“We’re planning to get some sheep and alpacas.

“It’s a different lifestyle than we’re used to, but we love it.

“Everything is so close. The traffic isn’t as congested. And it’s still only 2 and a half hours from Melbourne on the freeway.

“It’s been a great move for us.”

Interested in working for Uniting in Gippsland? Find the right job for you.

Family values at the heart of Leeann’s Uniting connection

Uniting has been Leeann’s second home for over 22 years.

“I’ve spent over half of my working life at Uniting, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” says Leeann.

“I’ve had lots of different roles from working in homelessness and family violence services to managing our reception team in Sale.

“That’s what I really love about Uniting – the diversity of work it has offered me.”

Leeann moved to Sale 25 years ago.

At the time, she had a young family but no social network.

“Uniting became my family and I’m still very close to a lot of people I have worked with over the years,” says Leeann.

“In a sense, my children grew up in the organisation. They were able to come in after school, sit in the lunchroom and do their homework.

“It was a family friendly environment. It still is.

“Over the years I’ve had a sick partner and parent to care for. The support I’ve received has been immeasurable.

“That’s what I love about Uniting. We say we are a family friendly organisation and we really are.”

Through her varied roles, Leeann has worked in various Gippsland offices, including Sale, Leongatha and Bairnsdale.

“It really helps to get to know more people across the organisation,” says Leeann.

“It means you’re not doing the same thing, day in and day out. And it’s lovely to meet and work with new people.”

Leeann has a message for people thinking about moving to her beloved Gippsland region.

“Whatever your interests are, there’s something here for you,” she says.

“It’s a great place to raise a family. I often get out and about with my grandchildren.

“And it’s really not that far from Melbourne. You can do a day trip on the public transport route.

“I often do a day trip to attend the theatre or the museum.

“If you’re thinking about it, give it a go. You won’t be disappointed.”

Interested in working for Uniting in Gippsland? Find the right job for you.

A big win for Early Childhood Educators.

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the approval of the Victorian Early Childhood Teachers and Educators Agreement (VECTEA) 2020 which will bring our nearly 950 early childhood educators and teachers considerably closer to the wages and conditions of primary school teachers.

The agreement will deliver significant wage increases along with 16 weeks employer-paid parental leave for primary care givers and four weeks for secondary carer givers, 20 days paid family violence leave and 15 days personal or carers leave for each year of service.

The agreement also recognises importance of wellbeing with those under the VECTEA now able to access confidential counselling. The new agreement also includes providing educators with more time to plan and deliver their educational programs.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike welcomed the agreement as recognition of the hard work and dedication of early childhood educators.

“We’re very proud of our early childhood educators and the role they play in children’s lives,” Ms Pike said.

“We know how important a solid foundation is for children in their early years. Our early childhood educators deliver high quality educational programs giving children a solid base preparing them so they’re ready and fully equipped for school.

“This agreement is recognition of their hard work and dedication, and hopefully, this new agreement will help encourage more people to consider a career in early childhood education.”

“Such a significant agreement cannot be reached without commitment and goodwill from everyone involved, including unions, the Victorian State Government, and the Early Learning Association of Australia who acted on behalf of Uniting.”

Thank you to the Moreland City Council.

Thank you to the Moreland City Council for supporting our Refugee Week celebrations.

Unfortunately, an afternoon tea planned for this weekend by our Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre and fellow community service organisations for people seeking asylum in the Moreland area has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, the Council has kindly provided food vouchers with the funding allocated to host the event.

The local library has also provided craft packs for local families to enjoy during the school holidays.

We have recently joined forces with the Council to improve access to local services for local refugees and people seeking asylum, including free access to aquatic and leisure facilities, free swim classes for children and access to school holiday programs.

Our multicultural services aim to build connection, reduce isolation and provide a positive future for people newly arrived in our community.

Dedication to financial counselling recognised.

Congratulations to Sue Fraser, who was awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) in this year’s Queen Birthday honours for her financial counselling work and supporting people experiencing vulnerability across the community.

Sue has been a champion for collaboration between the community service and business sectors to improve outcomes for people in hardship.

Sue started her financial counselling training in 1988 and joined Uniting in 1995.

Since then, Sue has been a leader in the industry for her visionary work.

Throughout her career, Sue has focussed on prevention, early intervention and support programs.

Sue has supported industries to increase awareness and understanding of economic abuse, through her work supporting those impacted by family violence.

Sue and her team work with the banking, debt collection, utility and telecommunications sectors to secure positive financial outcomes for consumers and business alike.

She has travelled across Australia and internationally, advocating for people in financial hardship.

Sue says the honour is humbling but unexpected.

“When I heard that I had been nominated, I certainly didn’t think I would receive (an OAM),” says Sue.

“These types of acknowledgements aren’t achieved by yourself. I received this because I work with a team and for an organisation who is willing to take risks and do things outside of the box.

“People have commented that it’s nice to have an ordinary person recognised for work that doesn’t have a high profile.

“It’s rewarding to know that the work we do makes a real difference for so many people.”

Find out more about our financial counselling services.

Sharon’s fresh start felt like a fairy-tale. That’s until the pandemic changed everything.

Leaving her country of origin, she came to Australia in 2019 to marry her childhood sweetheart. Together at last, it felt like a dream come true: a real opportunity for love, happiness and new beginnings.   

“I wanted to find new meaning and a new hope, living a healthy family life,” says Sharon.  

Filled with excitement, she couldn’t wait to see what the future had in store. The family settled in Shepparton, where her husband had been living since 2015.  

Then, the whole world was put on pause.  

COVID-19 swept across Australia, changing life as we knew it. As everything closed, Sharon’s family life started to falter.   

The pandemic took its toll on their family—and her marriage. 

Eventually, Sharon’s marriage fell apart. Without food, income or housing, she packed up and left with her children.  

Sharon’s future was uncertain.  

“I had big questions about my life and my decision to come to Australia,” says Sharon. 

“Had I jumped out of the pot into the fire? I had to start my life all over again.” 

Then, Sharon was referred to Uniting’s team in Shepparton.  

Connecting with our Settlement Hub service in Shepparton—which helps people who have been in Australia for less than 5 years—Sharon found the emergency relief and financial assistance she needed to get back on her feet.  

With hope in her heart, Sharon felt empowered. She successfully applied for a case manager support role with Uniting. Sharon now helps other asylum seekers to feel comfortable in their communities and understand what services are available for them. 

“It was a real moment of hope for me,” she remembers. “I knew with a full-time job, I would be able to afford a rental property, provide the basics for my children, manage my studies, and live without fear.” 

As part of the role, Sharon delivered meal packs to families in need, actively sharing in a program that helped her so much. 

Afterwards, she went back to the motel she called home, telling her kids how fulfilling it was to be able to help people just like them. 

Sharon recently reunited with her husband and they are working on building a happy future together.  

“We are not perfect human-beings, but when we try, half the battle is won,” says Sharon.  

Sharon is not alone in her story. Thousands of people across Victoria and Tasmania are struggling this winter. Your donation today will bring a brighter tomorrow for people in your community. 

Together, we can share hope – and change lives.

Uniting Vic.Tas recognised at 2021 Australian LGBTQ+ Inclusion Awards.

Uniting Vic.Tas, one of Australia’s largest community services providers, has been acknowledged as a national leader on inclusion.

The 2021 LGBTQ Inclusion Awards recognise Australian organisations for reaching and exceeding benchmarks for inclusion based on the recent Australian Workplace Equality Index and the Health+Wellbeing Equality Index.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the Silver Tier Award in the Health+Wellbeing Equality Index was recognition of Uniting’s commitment to inclusive service provision.

“We know that LGBTIQ+ people have too often faced rejection, social exclusion, discrimination, harassment, judgement, isolation and refusal of service because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status,” Ms Pike said.

“For many years, as an organisation, we’ve demonstrated a whole of organisation commitment towards improving LGBTIQ+ inclusive practices.

“Many LGBTIQ+ people don’t access the critical services they need for fear of actual or perceived discrimination and sadly, this often results in poorer health outcomes.

“Our commitment towards being an LGBTIQ+ inclusive workplace and delivering services which welcome and support vulnerable people, regardless of their gender or sexuality, is as strong as ever.

“We stand side by side LGBTIQ+ communities in continuing to advocate for social change.”

Statement on Victorian Government emergency relief funding package

“This pandemic has devastated families right across Victoria, so we welcome the additional emergency relief and hardship funding announced today by the Government. This will provide much needed assistance to Victoria’s most vulnerable.

“We’re especially pleased with the extra support for culturally and linguistically diverse Victorians, including temporary migrants and those on provisional visas. This is a group that’s been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, so ensuring they’re aware of, and receive, the emergency support available to them is critical.

“Since the start of this pandemic, we have experienced unprecedented demand in the numbers of people seeking emergency relief asking for food parcels, financial, housing or mental health support.

“In the second half of 2020, requests for food parcels doubled, while numbers needing help with housing, clothing, paying the bills or other support services, more than tripled.

“Our emergency relief services in Melbourne and across Victoria have seen people they’ve never seen before. People who have come to us desperate for help.

“We’ve seen international students to mums and dads in secure jobs who suddenly found themselves out of work and struggling pay the bills or just put food on the table.

“This funding package will help ensure nobody gets left behind. It will mean emergency relief services can provide for more Victorians in need allowing people to pay their rent, pay their bills and feed their families.”

Statement on Federal Government temporary COVID disaster payment

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to provide a temporary COVID disaster payment to eligible Victorians from next week but said it could have been provided as soon as the recent lockdown was announced.

“This payment will provide much needed relief to those most vulnerable Victorians. However, this is our eighth day in lockdown already – it shouldn’t have taken this long,” Ms Pike said.

“The Federal Government regularly provides support and financial assistance to people after floods, bushfires and other disasters and COVID is no different. Vulnerable people have been suffering through no fault of their own and they deserve help from all levels of government.

“We believe the real and underlying issue here is casual and insecure work. There are hundreds of thousands of ‘working poor’ around Victoria, people who live paycheque to paycheque, who work multiple jobs just so they can make ends meet.

“For months now we’ve argued the Federal Government ended the Jobseeker COVID supplement too early. This supplement provided a crucial lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Victorians, especially during the long lockdowns last year.

“These payments are not about a handout, it’s about allowing people to have a basic standard of living, a lifeline so they don’t slip further into poverty. A lifeline until things are back on track and they’re able to resume their work.

“We continue to support and stand by vulnerable Victorians who require support during this time by providing emergency relief such as food parcels, cooked meals and other assistance people may need.”

Our services are still operating

Victoria is once again entering a lockdown because of levels of COVID-19 in our community. It is on all of us to do what is needed to contain this outbreak and limit the time we spend in lockdown. 

Many of our services are considered essential and will continue to operate. This includes our early learning childcare centres and kindergartens, residential facilities, alcohol and other drug programs, support to those experiencing homelessness, family violence and those in need of emergency relief 

Our meal programs will be take-away only until the end of the lockdown. 

Our op-shops will be closed. 

Most of our other programs and services will continue to be available over the phone. 

Anyone coming to a Uniting location will be asked to wear a mask, register via QR code or the site register, practice hand hygiene and maintain physical distancing at all times. 

We understand how hard it is to return to lockdown and we will do our bit to make this time as short as possible. 

If you are struggling in any way, please reach out to a service such as Lifeline, which is on 13 11 14. 

 

National Reconciliation Week 2021

National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

This year’s theme – More than a word. Reconciliation takes action, urges the reconciliation movement towards braver and more impactful action.

We all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures and futures.

Guided by Reconciliation Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan framework, we are taking a strategic approach to advancing reconciliation in our organisation.

We recently launched our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan.

This plan encourages us to deliver services and other support that respects the cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities and identify opportunities to work towards reconciliation right across Uniting.

We thank everyone for their contribution to our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan, particularly the guidance and support provided by the Aboriginal members of our Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group.

Each year events are held across the country to mark National Reconciliation Week.

From awards to webinars, virtual and in-person events, there are many ways you can get involved in National Reconciliation Week 2021.

Find an event near you.

A Budget of fairness and care for Victoria’s most vulnerable

We welcome the 2021-22 Victorian State Budget as delivering for vulnerable Victorians.

With significant investments in mental health, preventing homelessness, jobs and at-risk children and families, Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said she was pleased with the focus on health and wellbeing and supporting those who need it most.

“This is a Budget which recognises and responds to the immediate needs of vulnerable Victorians while also putting the building blocks in place for the challenges ahead,” Ms Pike said.

“The $3.8 billion investment to rebuild the mental health system is a game-changer which shifts the focus to prevention and early intervention and for the first time recognises the importance of proper mental health care.

“We commend the Government for continuing funding for the Private Rental Assistance Program, which is giving security to thousands of people by providing them with the support they need to stay in their home.

“Uniting Vic.Tas has committed $20 million towards social housing, including a plan to build 500 new homes over the next five years. We look forward to continuing to partner with the Government to deliver its social housing strategy.

“New residential rehabilitation beds and community-based alcohol and other drug treatment services, particularly in regional areas, will give people struggling with addiction more options to get the help they need, close to home.

“We strongly believe in a harm minimisation approach and support the continued investment in medically supervised injecting rooms, which will save lives.

“We’re delighted with the expansion of three-year old kindergarten across the state from 2022. This will give every child regardless of where they live, the best start in life.

“Further investment in programs for at-risk children and families is timely, however, we believe more needs to be done to make the out-of-home care system fairer by ensuring all children receive the appropriate therapeutic care.

“The continuation of funding for Child FIRST which connects vulnerable families to services which best suit their needs and provides access to appropriate community-based support is a positive.

“Overall, we believe this is the right Budget for the time, a Budget which delivers for our most vulnerable and takes important steps towards improving the health and wellbeing of all Victorians.”

Celebrating our volunteer heroes

From providing hot meals to the homeless to helping asylum seekers adapt to life in their new country, Uniting Vic.Tas volunteers provide 1.2 million hours of service to local communities every year.

As part of National Volunteer Week 2021 (May 17-23), Uniting Vic.Tas is acknowledging the tireless work of its more than 2400 volunteers who play an integral role in delivering essential community services across Victoria and Tasmania.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the organisation’s volunteers support a broad range of programs from aged and home-based care, emergency relief, early learning, youth mentoring, disability support and op-shops.

“Last year, our volunteers answered more than 65,000 calls to our Lifeline 24/7 phone support service giving people comfort in their darkest moments and helped pack 35,000 food parcels and serve 61,500 meals to people in need.”

“This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is Recognise, Reconnect and Reimagine, which is about recognising the contribution of volunteers, reconnecting to what’s important by helping others and reimagining how we can better support volunteers.

“Above all, this week is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate the work of volunteers and to say thank you.

“More than 42 per cent of our workforce are volunteers and they generously give up time with their families and loved ones, putting in long hours, day in, day out, to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Our volunteers are at the heart of everything we do in this community and we’re always looking for more, so if you can help, please get in touch with us.”

Some quick facts:
  • More than 2100 volunteers and volunteer carers help deliver more than 100 community support services
  • In 2020, answered 65,000 calls to Lifeline, the crisis support and suicide prevention phone line
  • Cooked more than 61,500 meals and prepared more than 35,000 food packages for people in crisis
  • 361 foster carers provide a safe and secure home for thousands of at-risk children
  • 430 volunteers help to run 24 op-shops around Victoria and Tasmania
  • 479 volunteers support around 2500 older people to maintain their independence
  • Speak 70 languages and assist with the settlement support of asylum seekers
  • 42 per cent of our workforce are volunteers.

Find out more information about becoming a Uniting Volunteer.

Help give some warmth to those in need this winter

With the colder months upon us, Uniting Vic.Tas is again calling for your help to bring some comfort to those who need it most.

With the colder months upon us, Uniting Vic.Tas is again calling for your help to bring some comfort to those who need it most.

As part of this year’s Winter Blanket Appeal, we’re appealing to the community to dig deep and donate. Just $29 is enough to buy a new blanket or doona for someone doing it tough in our local community.

With homeless numbers on the rise, the race is on to keep those most vulnerable in our community warm and sheltered this winter.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said poverty, unaffordable property rents and family violence were among the leading contributors to homelessness.

“This is a time of great uncertainty and we know there are many people in our community who are really struggling,” Ms Pike said.

“With the end of JobKeeper and the reduction in the JobSeeker payment, we’re bracing for a surge in demand and that includes people experiencing homelessness.

“Homelessness isn’t just living on the streets. It could be someone with nowhere to live and having to ‘couch surf’ or a mother and her children fleeing family violence and living in their car.

“We see many people who are lucky enough to have housing but are forced to choose between purchasing food or paying for electricity. It’s the most disadvantaged people in our community who are always hardest hit in the colder months.”

“We’re asking people to contribute what they can. All donations are welcomed and will be appreciated this winter.”

Donations can be made at your local Uniting Vic.Tas emergency relief centre.

Find locations near you.

Making community connections

Husband and wife, Aliuddin and Nishat started volunteering at Uniting to give back to their new community.

The couple moved from Melbourne to Hobart 2 years ago with their young son.

“One of our friends volunteered with Uniting and suggested we give it a go,” says Aliuddin.

“It’s been a wonderful way to connect with our new community.

“We’ve made new friends and met some great people through volunteering.”

The couple are now an invaluable part of the volunteer team in Hobart.

Along with coming in at short notice to cover other volunteers and working additional hours during busy times, the couple are more than willing to do the less glamorous jobs like taking rubbish to the tip.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nishat helped to set up Uniting’s new office in Bridgewater.

Aliuddin played a vital role in delivering food and toiletry hampers to people who couldn’t leave their house due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This involved picking up goods from the supermarket, making hampers, packing them into a delivery van and personally delivering the packs to people in need.

This is all while the couple study, Aliuddin works part time and cares for their 2-year-old son.

“Helping someone is the rent you pay to live in this world,” says Aliuddin.

“We feel lucky to have the opportunity to help others.

“Hobart is a wonderful community and it’s been lovely to connect with other people through volunteering.”

Become a Volunteer

Serving up care and compassion

For 15 years, Sue has volunteered with Uniting’s Winter Breakfast program in Prahran.

Each week, she serves up hot breakfasts to people unable to access food.

Prior to retiring 2 years ago, Sue says the role perfectly suited her busy working life.

“I would come in and volunteer 1 day a week from 7am to 10am and then head off to work,” says Sue.

“If you want to volunteer, you can always fit it in somewhere.”

When COVID-19 hit last year, Sue swapped her Winter Breakfast shift to the lunchtime shift.

She has also spent time volunteering in the Prahran Op Shop and delivering Christmas hampers to bring a little cheer to people during the festive season.

“Volunteering is so diverse. There are so many roles available and you meet some wonderful people,” she says.

“I’ve volunteered across all areas in Prahran, apart from emergency relief.

“It was great that we were able to stay open and offer takeaway meals to people in need during COVID-19 restrictions.”

Sue says she was humbled when people started bringing in gifts to thank volunteers who continued working during the pandemic.

“People were bringing in little gifts like lollies, chocolates and flowers,” says Sue.

“People really appreciated that we had stayed open during such a scary time.

“It made us feel like we were doing something worthwhile.

“For people to bring in gifts, when they have so little themselves, was so kind and that memory will stay with me forever.”

Sue says she has gained a lot from her volunteering roles.

“Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose,” she says.

“It teaches you gratitude, patience and kindness. It’s well worth the time.”

Become a Volunteer

A passion for helping others

Marg draws inspiration from the people she meets while volunteering.

The 75-year-old has been volunteering with Uniting’s emergency relief service in Wodonga for 7 years.

Prior to that, she worked with the organisation as a pastoral care counsellor for 7 years.

Marg also volunteers with Lifeline.

“I’ve met a lot of interesting people over the years at Uniting,” says Marg.

“Many have been dealt a tough hand in life and live with physical and mental challenges.

“But they cope. They are so strong. And they often have remarkable resilience.”

Marg and the team in Wodonga provide practical support to people in their time of need.

From food to funds for medication – Marg says it all helps.

But she understands that reaching out to Uniting for practical support often means there are other challenges at play.

“Often we are able to talk to people about their needs and they are a lot more complex than just needing food,” she says.

“We provide referrals to housing and mental health agencies.”

Marg recalls one man who reached out for support with food.

“He had come in a few times and I discovered he was experiencing homelessness,” says Marg.

“One day he walked in with his head in his hands.

“He said he hasn’t been able to have his son stay with him because he was living in a tent.

“And he was struggling with his mental health.

“We were able to give him food, refer him to a local housing provider and encourage him to call Lifeline to talk about his troubles.”

Marg says he was very grateful and hasn’t been back to the service since, after finding the support he needed.

“I like to think we’re giving people more than food, we’re also giving them hope in their time of need.

“I feel like I’m being useful and giving back to my community in a small way.

“Whenever you volunteer, it’s a 2-way street. You give but you get back as much as you give.”

Become a Volunteer

Supporting local youth

Inspired by her own struggles growing up, Carolyn has been a Youth Mentor with Uniting for over 6 years.

“When I decided to start volunteering, I knew I wanted to help children and youth in some way,” says Carolyn.

“From my own experience as a teenager, not having the best relationships with my parents, I know how useful it can be to have someone outside of the family unit to talk to.”

Carolyn has mentored 3 local youth over her volunteering journey.

Working in a bank full time, she says she enjoys spending her down-time with the young mentees.

“I don’t have children myself, so it’s a nice way for me to connect with young people,” she says.

“I want to make a positive impact on their lives and give them opportunities they might not have.”

From going to a dog show to going to the library to read – Carolyn and her young mentees have taken part in a variety of activities.

“It’s nice because we bond over shared interests,” she says.

“Sometimes they want to go out and have some fun, and other times they just want to sit and talk.”

Carolyn admits she has dealt with some “testing” behaviour over the years.

“But once they start to open up and trust me, I’ve been able to understand where that behaviour is coming from.

“Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience.

“I’ve been able to see them grow as people and become more confident in themselves.

“It has certainly opened my eyes as to the challenges young people face today, including social media and bullying.”

Carolyn is still in touch with her former mentees.

She says she has gained more than she has given.

“If you’re thinking about it, give it a go,” she says.

“There is as much reward in it for the adult as there is for the young person.”

Become a Volunteer

A listening ear in a time of crisis

As a retired teacher and social worker, Julia knows the importance of having someone to listen during a time of need.

Julia has been a Lifeline volunteer for over 25 years.

“Listening to people is an essential skill to have in this role,” says Julia.

“We’re not there to fix the problem.

“We listen, encourage and drop in the odd suggestion when possible.”

Julia first started volunteering with Lifeline in Melbourne in 1995.

When she moved to Ballarat 3 years later, she joined the local Lifeline team.

Uniting Vic.Tas operates both the Melbourne and Ballarat Lifeline centres.

Julia has also volunteered as a prison chaplain.

“A close family member had mental health challenges, so it’s something that is important to me,” says Julia.

Julia has answered thousands of crisis calls.

But she likes to think of crisis in a different way to many.

“People often view the word “crisis” as a negative,” she explains.

“But I see the word “crisis” as meaning “crossroads,” where you can choose your direction.

“I choose to see crisis as an opportunity to go in a better direction.”

When COVID-19 hit, the Julia was no longer able to attend the Lifeline office.

Instead, she now offers support to fellow volunteers when difficult calls come through.

“I am also available for volunteers to debrief at the end of the session if they need to talk to someone,” says Julia.

“As a Lifeline volunteer, it’s important to talk to others, to look after yourself.”

After all these years volunteering, Julia says she is grateful for the many life lessons she has learned along the way.

“I’m learning all the time from the callers and from fellow volunteers,” she says.

“I have always been the one who gained. I joined because I thought I’d like to help other people, but through the training and from my peers, I’ve learned a lot more about myself.”

Become a Lifeline Volunteer

Federal Budget boosts services, but little to ease affordable housing crisis

One of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community services providers, Uniting Vic.Tas, today welcomed additional funding in the 2021-22 Federal Budget for aged care, mental health, disability, and family violence services, but argued it was a missed opportunity to address the affordable housing crisis.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the additional support for some community services was much needed, but more could have been done to support the homeless and those living below the poverty line.

“The additional 80,000 Home Care Packages will support more older people to continue to live independently in their own home,” she said.

“We are also pleased the government has provided funding for new mental health initiatives and a range of programs that directly support women and children who have been subjected to family violence.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic demand for all our services increased significantly including a 36 per cent increase in referrals to our Men’s Behaviour Change programs in just a six-month period, so additional funding for these services was long overdue.”

Ms Pike said more could have been done in the Budget for people on income support or the two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed.

“We still believe the Government needs to raise the Jobseeker payment to a rate which affords people a basic standard of living,” Ms Pike said.

“We’re disappointed there was no new funding for social housing or making housing more affordable.

“Affordable housing is about more than just providing a roof over someone’s head. It gives people a launchpad to help them escape the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.

“We support the measures to make childcare more affordable, but the cost is still a significant barrier, especially for many low-income families.

“As a provider of Lifeline and mental health services, we’re also pleased with the new funding for mental health counselling clinics and the establishment of a National Suicide Prevention Office.”

A listening ear in a time of crisis

As a retired teacher and social worker, Julia knows the importance of having someone to listen during a time of need.

Julia has been a Lifeline volunteer for over 25 years.

“Listening to people is an essential skill to have in this role,” says Julia.

“We’re not there to fix the problem.

“We listen, encourage and drop in the odd suggestion when possible.”

Julia first started volunteering with Lifeline in Melbourne in 1995.

When she moved to Ballarat 3 years later, she joined the local Lifeline team.

Uniting Vic.Tas operates both the Melbourne and Ballarat Lifeline centres.

Julia has also volunteered as a prison chaplain.

“A close family member had mental health challenges, so it’s something that is important to me,” says Julia.

Julia has answered thousands of crisis calls.

But she likes to think of crisis in a different way to many.

“People often view the word “crisis” as a negative,” she explains.

“But I see the word “crisis” as meaning “crossroads,” where you can choose your direction.

“I choose to see crisis as an opportunity to go in a better direction.”

When COVID-19 hit, the Julia was no longer able to attend the Lifeline office.

Instead, she now offers support to fellow volunteers when difficult calls come through.

“I am also available for volunteers to debrief at the end of the session if they need to talk to someone,” says Julia.

“As a Lifeline volunteer, it’s important to talk to others, to look after yourself.”

After all these years volunteering, Julia says she is grateful for the many life lessons she has learned along the way.

“I’m learning all the time from the callers and from fellow volunteers,” she says.

“I have always been the one who gained. I joined because I thought I’d like to help other people, but through the training and from my peers, I’ve learned a lot more about myself.”

Become a Lifeline Volunteer

Don’t get burnt by high winter energy bills

If you’re struggling financially and worried about how you’ll pay your heating bill this winter, you may be eligible for support from Uniting Vic.Tas.

Uniting Vic.Tas has partnered with Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Australian Energy Foundation to provide targeted advice and support to Victorians who need help with their energy bills.

The team of skilled advisors at the Energy Assistance Program will also help you find the best value deals and any money-saving grants and rebates you may be eligible for so you can crunch your energy costs and avoid bill shock.

Matt Cairns, Senior Manager of Uniting’s Energy and Financial Literacy Program said falling behind on energy bills continues to be one of the most common sources of financial stress raised with financial counsellors.

“The energy market can be really confusing and when people are faced with high bills and fall into debt, they often don’t know where to turn for support,” Mr Cairns said.

“Some people are struggling to catch up with their bills. But we also see elderly clients in winter who stop using their heating altogether because they are worried about the cost. That can seriously affect their health and welfare and we want to avoid that.

“We’ve seen some clients who are faced with unaffordable bills resorting to using credit cards and payday lenders. These can have huge interest rates attached to them creating a debt spiral from which they struggle to escape.

“Prevention is far better than cure, so if you’re struggling with your bills now, get in touch with us and we’ll support you to get back on track.

“Whether it’s sorting out a payment plan with your energy provider, how you can use your appliances more efficiently or finding the best energy deal for you, we’ll help give you some peace of mind.”

Under the Victorian Government’s Payment Difficulty Framework, energy companies must assist any household that engages with them, preventing them from being disconnected.

Support is available over-the-phone and we have interpreter support available in your language – start by calling 1800 830 029 or find out more about our Energy Services.

Family violence workshops for frontline workers

Lifeline Ballarat, part of Uniting Vic.Tas, is presenting a series of two-day Domestic and Family Violence training workshops for frontline workers across the Ballarat region.

Domestic and Family Violence Response Training (DV-Alert) is designed to build the capacity and skills of frontline workers in responding to family violence when it is not a core function of their primary role.

To be eligible for the free two-day workshops, participants must work or volunteer in health, allied health, community, higher education or childcare or in a frontline capacity supporting the general community.

At the workshops, participants will learn to recognise the signs of domestic and family violence, respond with appropriate care, and refer people to support services.

Family violence is the single largest contributor to homelessness for women in Australia and the leading contributor to preventable illness, disability and death for women aged 15 to 44.

Lifeline Ballarat community training co-ordinator Belinda Collihole said the training would provide frontline workers with the tools they need to deal with family violence.

“Family violence doesn’t discriminate and because it most often happens behind closed doors, it’s largely hidden and often until it’s too late,” Ms Collihole said.

“It might be happening to a work colleague, a friend or your next door neighbour – it can and does happen to anyone and that’s why we all need to know the signs.

“Often victims of family violence don’t want to speak up or seek help because they’re scared or embarrassed. This training is about equipping people who work closely with the community every day with the skills they need to be able to identify and respond.”

The workshops will be held on April 28 and 29, May 5 and 6 and June 1 and 2, with workshops for frontline workers supporting multicultural communities on May 25 and 26, and frontline workers supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on June 8 and 9.

For more information phone Lifeline Ballarat’s Training Coordinator Belinda Collihole on 0466 852 016 or visit www.dvalert.org.au. To register for the workshops, e-mail [email protected].

Funding cut to homelessness services will hurt our most vulnerable

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has urged the Federal Government to re-commit to a vital funding program for homelessness support services or risk leaving thousands of Victorians in the cold this winter.

The Victorian Government has written to the state’s homelessness organisations warning the Federal Government has opted not to renew its funding as part of the Equal Remuneration Order beyond June 30.

The Equal Remuneration Order was introduced in 2012 to cover social and community workers recognising the sector’s predominantly female workforce had been predominantly lower paid because of their gender.

Ms Pike told The Age that Uniting Vic.Tas stands to lose $1.2 million in ERO funding for homelessness support services in 2021-22.

“(It will mean) people will have to wait longer for services,” Ms Pike said.

“It’ll be more people sleeping on the streets, more mothers who are sleeping with their children in their cars after fleeing family violence.”

Read the full story from The Age here: Homelessness funding: ‘Really worrying’ as groups face $20 million a year funding shortfall (theage.com.au)

To join the campaign calling on the Federal Government to reinstate the funding visit: Email the Federal Government | Don’t Close the Door: Save Homelessness Services (good.do)

It’s time for a public drug testing service and a drug early warning network in Victoria

As a leading provider of alcohol and other drug treatment services to the Victorian community, Uniting Vic.Tas fully endorses the recommendations by Victorian Coroner Paresa Spanos to introduce a permanent rapid public drug testing service to reduce the risk of drug-related harm.

We support any evidence-based initiative that will help to minimise the risk of harm or death due to alcohol and drug use.

We believe a drug testing service will allow people to make more informed choices about their substance use. However, any such service would need to be coupled with specialised support and access to a range of alcohol and other drug treatment services to be effective.

A drug testing service would also need to be accessible, timely and staffed appropriately to ensure people felt safe.

The Coroner also recommended the establishment of an early warning network for Victoria to provide rapid alerts to the community when dangerous new substances are circulating.

An early warning system would capture data from a range of sources and provide timely information to the community on high risk substances. Uniting supports the introduction of these evidence-based interventions and is currently involved in a project looking at how to translate police seizure data into useful clinical alerts.

A harm reduction approach neither condones nor condemns alcohol and other drug use. It provides practical, non-judgemental support to people who are actively involved in alcohol and other drug use.

Many of the harms associated with alcohol and other drug use can be reduced or are preventable. Substantial future harms to individuals, families and the community can be reduced or prevented by providing people with accurate information and appropriate support.

Our alcohol and drug treatment and support services provide information, advice, treatment and support for people seeking to make changes to their substance use. We don’t want to see any more Victorian lives lost especially when there are interventions that could prevent these tragic deaths.

The Coroner’s findings were released on April 7 and are available on the Coroners Court website.

Find out more about our Alcohol and Drug services.

Alone and afraid, Jhez wanted a brighter future for her baby.

Always able to support herself, Jhez’s world turned upside down in 2009.

She was 7 months pregnant with her first child, but her financial stability started slipping away.

Her relationship fell apart. Her finances crumbled. Her security began to unravel.

“Before I knew it, I was struggling to get by,” says Jhez.

Jhez connected with Uniting, discovering the practical support she needed, like food and housing, to get back on her feet.

Across Victoria and Tasmania, more and more people are facing desperate times like Jhez.

Feeling positive and prepared, Jhez started a new chapter with her baby boy, Troy.

“I made a promise to myself that I would never be in that position again.”

Little did she know, this was only the beginning of her story.

Ten years later, Jhez’s son reached out to Uniting.

But this time, it wasn’t to get help – it was to give back.

For his 10th birthday in February last year, Troy asked friends to donate to Uniting instead of buying gifts. He held a party at Uniting, delivering food and toiletries donated by his young friends.

“I’m so proud of him. He understands what I went through while I was pregnant and knows the importance of helping people.”

For many of us, 2020 presented hurdles. For Jhez and Troy, it held heartbreak. Now happily married, Jhez suffered a miscarriage during Victoria’s second COVID-19 lockdown.

“We were so excited when we found out I was pregnant… to have that joy taken away broke my heart.”

In the face of tragedy, Jhez remained committed to caring for others. She regularly volunteers with Uniting and, like Troy, has chosen to celebrate her 40th birthday with us.

“I’d like to follow in Troy’s footsteps and celebrate by giving back.

“It’s a meaningful way to mark the occasion and acknowledge how far I’ve come… all thanks to Uniting.”

With your support, we can stand with people through the toughest months of the year.

Your donation will transform lives across Victoria and Tasmania – this season and into the future.

Thank you for making new beginnings possible.

JobSeeker cut will plunge most vulnerable deeper into poverty

The $100 a fortnight cut to the JobSeeker payment will force more people into poverty and place even greater pressure on emergency relief services, according to Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike.

Ms Pike said the organisation is bracing itself for an expected surge in demand for food and housing support in the coming weeks and months.

“During 2020, we found demand at our emergency relief centres doubled from March to October as more people found themselves out of work – some for the first time in their lives,” Ms Pike said.

“The initial $500 a fortnight COVID-19 supplement made a real difference to people’s living standards.  For the first time in years, people on unemployment benefits could afford to buy fresh food, medicine, and clothes.

“Even when the supplement was reduced to $150 a fortnight, it was enough to provide many people with some certainty and some relief from having to constantly struggle to afford the basics.”

Ms Pike said replacing the COVID-19 supplement and increasing the JobSeeker payment by just $50 a fortnight would not be enough to save many families from crisis and having to ask for help.

“One million children in Australia have a parent who will be affected by this cut. What sort of future are we offering them, when their parents, often single mothers, are struggling to provide even the basics?

“With the end of this supplement, people will fall deeper into poverty and many will struggle to escape. Families are already under enormous stress whether it’s paying the rent or bills or just really struggling with their own mental health.

“The Jobseeker payment is not a handout, it’s about giving people a basic standard of living while they get back on their feet. Nobody should have to make a choice between paying the electricity bill and buying necessities like food or medicine.”

CEO Easter message 2021

Easter is for many a time of reflection and the hope for renewal. And for Christians, it is the most important celebration of the year.

As we approach Easter this year, we are reminded of all those who have been affected by COVID, bushfires and more recently floods.

Yet, in the midst of these challenges, we see signs of hope and resilience.

You can read stories about our work and people.

Whether Easter is a part of your tradition or not, I wish you a happy and refreshing break.

International Transgender Day of Visibility.

31 March 2021 is International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Uniting stands with our partnering organisations at the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare to recognise and celebrate trans and gender diverse children and young people and support the right for gender identity to be recognised, respected, and celebrated.

Read our joint statement of support here

Uniting is proud of our services doing this work including The Diversity Project, Karrung Youth Foyer, Queer Refugee & Asylum Seeker Connections.

Read more about how we are working for an inclusive community 

Statement on Victorian Parlimentary Committee Report on Homelessness by CEO Bronwyn Pike

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike today welcomed the release of a new Victorian parliamentary committee report which urged the Victorian Government to urgently address the state’s growing homelessness crisis.

Among the 51 recommendations in the report, the report urges the Government to increase the provision of affordable, stable and long-term housing, prioritise and strengthen early invention such as tenancy support programs and greater assistance for people fleeing family violence, new and innovative accommodation options and social housing which better meets the needs of those experiencing homelessness.

“We can’t continue to allow the most vulnerable people in our society to keep falling through the cracks,” Ms Pike said.

“Ending homelessness for good has to be our priority. That means even more investment from both State and Federal Governments in social housing, making housing more affordable and improving support.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a significant increase in homeless numbers which have stretched our services to the limit. The funding the State Government has provided for more social housing is a start, but we desperately need more intake and assessment workers at homelessness entry points so we can meet the demand.

“We often associate the idea of homelessness as somebody who is sleeping rough on the city streets, but that’s only a small part of the problem.

“In Melbourne’s outer suburbs and in cities and small towns across regional Victoria, there are thousands of people not only sleeping rough, but couch surfing or living in emergency or temporary accommodation and even in cars, including many women who have fled family violence.

“We know that safe and secure housing is a major factor in helping get a person’s life on track and it’s only once they secure housing can they address any issues they may have with employment, mental health or alcohol and drugs.

“The current Jobseeker rate is a major barrier to hundreds of thousands of Victorians being able to escape homelessness, secure a house, pay the rent and put food on the table.

“The recent $50 a fortnight increase was nowhere near enough and will only push people further into poverty and that’s why we’ll continue to advocate for a higher rate which pushes people above the poverty live and affords them a basic standard of living.”

See the submission to the report from Uniting.

The team that keeps giving

For most, Christmas is the ‘season of giving.’

But for the team at Epworth HealthCare, it’s something they do all year round.

A few years ago, the Epworth team joined our Food For Families appeal.

“Some of our staff commented that this is something we could do all year round, not just at Christmas,” says Scott Bulger, Executive Director of the Epworth Medical Foundation and Brand.

“Staff are encouraged to buy a few extra items when they do their shopping, bring them in and place them in one of the collection bins.”

The team have donation sites set up at their Richmond, East Melbourne, Camberwell, Box Hill and Geelong sites.

“It’s nice to know that the food we donate will immediately help people in their time of need,” says Scott.

Along with collecting food and essential items last year, the Epworth team raised $10,000 for Food For Families.

To find out how you can get involved in Food For Families visit the website.

Pictured: Executive Director of the Epworth Medical Foundation and Brand, Scott Bulger and Peri-Anaesthetic Manager, Alice Whitbread are happy to support Food For Families all year round.

Response to Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

One of Australia’s largest community services and mental health support providers, Uniting Vic.Tas, has welcomed the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System released today in State Parliament.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said of the recommendations, it was particularly important there was greater recognition of the need to improve treatment and outcomes for those with dual diagnosis.

Ms Pike said the Uniting Vic.Tas service model provided clients with a ‘one stop shop’ whether people with mental health issues could also address housing, employment or alcohol and drug treatment with the one organisation.

“We’re pleased the Commission included a number of our recommendations, including increased investment in early intervention and prevention and improved co-ordination of clinical and community mental health services,” Ms Pike said.

“Sadly, we’ve seen a sharp rise in demand for our mental health and crisis support services over the past 12 months, so it’s never been more important to invest in mental health.

“As one of Victoria’s leading mental health support agencies, we stand ready to partner with the Government to implement the recommendations included in the report.”

Uniting Vic.Tas Alcohol, Other Drugs and Mental Health General Manager Laurence Alvis told the inquiry about the need for better integration between mental health and alcohol and drug services.

“About 70 per cent of our clients have both mental health and alcohol and other drug issues, so it’s important these links have been recognised,” Mr Alvis said.

“If a client presents seeking treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, they will often not only have issues with their mental health, but also housing or employment, all of which are impacting on their lives.

“The holistic and integrated service model approach we have at Uniting Vic.Tas to dealing with all of the issues in people’s lives is the key to giving vulnerable people renewed hope, a path to recovery and better days ahead.”

You can read Uniting’s submission to the enquiry here

Media enquiries:

Cameron Tait 0407 801 231 – [email protected]

Caring for generations to come

A legacy that lights the way.

Janet is committed to caring for others – now and in the future.

Janet and her brother were raised on a healthy diet of caring, compassion and kindness. Taught by their mother to support those facing hard times, Janet has never lost the ‘habit of helping.’

A gift in her Will to Uniting serves 2 meaningful purposes for Janet: a tribute to her mother, and a way of caring for her community – long into the future.

“My mother died more than 50 years ago,” says Janet. “But, while she was alive, she always encouraged us to think about others.”

Janet is helping to ensure vital services will always be available and accessible to the most vulnerable in our community.

And you can too.

For information about how to leave a gift in your Will, please call us on 1800 668 426 or contact us.

Everyone deserves a place to call home

Securing stable housing can be the first step towards a brighter future. But for many, finding a place to call home can seem impossible.

The issue.

For people experiencing homelessness, housing affordability is often a hurdle on the road to stability.

Being unable to afford – or find – safe, stable housing affects their ability to better their circumstances and work towards a brighter future.

The problem.

Housing affordability continues to be an issue throughout our communities.

As property prices continue to rise, more and more people are finding themselves in housing stress. Yet, after decades of underinvestment,

Victoria still has the lowest proportion of social housing in Australia. 3.2% of Victoria’s housing stock is social housing – well below the national average of 4.2%.

It’s no better in Tasmania, where people in need of social housing struggle to find a safe, secure home.

The solution.

With your ongoing support, we are working to fix this problem.

So far, we have:

  • pledged $20 million to address the affordable housing shortage in Victoria and Tasmania.
  • planned 500 new social and affordable housing properties across Victoria over the next 5 years, including a 30- to 36-unit development at Ringwood.

“The bottom line is that we need to invest in more stock,” says Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike.

“We are providing housing for people on low incomes – we are not going to get the kind of rent that will pay back a commercial mortgage or loan,” she says.

“We need governments and private developers to partner with us during the construction phase.”

By speaking up and standing together, we can fix our system and support our community.

See more of our Advocacy work

The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes. It is not a photo of Uniting consumers.

Coming together to transform Christmas.

In recent years, Jess (pictured left) and her family have enjoyed a new Christmas tradition: changing lives.
When the festivities get going, Jess gets to work. Every December, she asks her nearest and dearest to collect food and essentials for families in need. For Jess, 2020 was no different.

“Collecting goods from family and friends at Christmas is the perfect excuse to catch up and spend time together,” says Jess.

Together with friends and family, Jess gathered 27 bags and 14 boxes of food and essential items in 2020 – her greatest collection yet.

“We all need to eat, so it’s a simple way people can help,” says Jess.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people in your local community at Christmas – and beyond.”

You make a real difference.

Sonia shared her story as part of our 2020 Christmas Appeal, which raised over $544,700.

Sonia also celebrated Christmas with her family and friends at home.

But the festivities didn’t stop there. While picking up a food hamper, Sonia shared some Christmas cheer of her own. Sonia donated over 80 freshly laid eggs to Uniting’s NoBucks service in Hobart.

“Our chooks lay a lot of eggs, so I thought it would be nice to give them to Uniting for people who need them,” says Sonia. “It felt good to be able to give back.”

Sonia also presented the Hobart team with a tin of biscuits to say thank you.

“They do a wonderful job, and I wanted to make sure they know that it’s appreciated,” says Sonia.

Helping people find their freedom.

Seeking asylum is a human right.

People seeking asylum are some of the most vulnerable in our community. Many are fleeing persecution and harm, travelling to a strange country, often at great risk, hoping for comfort and support.

The Australian Government has decided to grant Final Departure Bridging Visa E to asylum seekers transferred from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment.

While the visa offers families their freedom, the government’s support stops 3 weeks after leaving community detention. After that, they are expected to support
themselves. For most of these families, this will be a challenge.

They may not be confident speaking English yet, or they might not have the right skills to find work. Even if they do, jobs are hard to come by in a pandemic.

Give a fresh start to families in crisis.

With your support, we offer families the support they need for their fresh start.

With our Asylum Seeker Programs, we can help them find a home, feed their families and feel positive about their future. But we
can’t do it alone.

Can you open your heart and your home?

If you’re interested in housing families as they
get back on their feet, please get in touch. We
are searching for potential spaces for families
for up to 6 months.

Be a part of their fresh start.

Can’t help with housing? Don’t worry – there are many ways to get involved. You can:

Uniting to make a difference.

Your generosity can change lives in your community, paving the way for a brighter future. Here’s how you can get involved.

Feeding families, changing lives.

Put food on the table – all year round – with Food For Families.

Thanks to your generous support, over 17 tonnes of food and toiletries were donated last December. This achievement provided support for people in their toughest season yet.

But the cupboards are already looking bare. With the growing demand, our supplies will be gone by winter. We want to support everyone who reaches out to us, no matter what time of year it is. But we can’t do it alone.

Your regular support will ensure people get what they need to get back on their feet. Because of you, we’ll be there when they
need us most.

Like the team from Epworth you can make a difference by donating items on a regular basis.

No time to collect? You might like to make a regular financial contribution. A little bit, every month, can provide a lot for people in need. For just $1 a day – or $30 a month – you can provide a family with the basics they need to keep going.

Become a year-round Food For Families supporter.

 

Flip for a good cause

Make a pancake – and a difference – for your community.

It’s never too late to flip for a cause.

Individually, or as a group, you can host a Pancake Day event any time before the end of March.

All money raised goes directly to your local programs, supporting people in your community when they need it most.

Thank you to everyone who has already registered or held their 2021 Pancake Day event. Don’t forget to share stories of your pancakes and warm hearts.

Visit the Pancake Day website for tips and resources to help your Pancake Day be a success.

Warm meals, friendly faces.

For over 30 years, people have come to Hartley’s Community Dining Room for a hearty meal. This vital service provides meals for those who couldn’t prepare or access food themselves.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Sadly, Hartley’s was forced to temporarily close its dining room in March 2020 when COVID-19 hit. Thinking outside the box, the team were able to
find new ways to provide fresh food – and a friendly face – to those in need. All thanks to StreetSmart.

Founded by Adam Robinson in 2003, StreetSmart works to break down prejudices about people experiencing tough times. Coming to grips with the
issues facing our community, StreetSmart started cooking up ideas on how to get involved.

“Organisations were worried about food insecurity, with many food outlets for people experiencing homelessness closing their doors,” says Adam.

“We wanted to make an impact straight away.”

With many venues closing their doors due to COVID-19 restrictions, the StreetSmart team saw an opportunity. “We realised there were empty kitchens with people willing to cook, and other people who still needed to eat,” says Adam. “So we paired them up.”

StreetSmart connected the local venues to the Hartley’s kitchen, where they prepared meals for people who needed it most. “We just want
people to feel safe, supported and have access to food all year round,” says Adam.

Joining forces with StreetSmart, we now offer tasty, takeaway meals to people facing food insecurity – every day.

Meals Program Coordinator, Sara Loots says StreetSmart’s support – worth over $90,000 – was invaluable in keeping doors open. “It was a big relief for people who don’t know where their next meal will come from,” says Sara.

To keep bellies full – and spirits bright – over Christmas, StreetSmart gave an additional grant of $6,500 to the program. “We normally close for 2 weeks over Christmas,” says Sara, “but thanks to StreetSmart, we were able to keep supplying meals to people who rely on them.”

Our team at Hartley’s has served up meals to people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donate Now to support services like Hartley’s.

Uniting Vic.Tas recommends to Parliament improved support for those affected by forced adoptions

Better support to re-connect families separated by forced adoptions, improving access to historical records and information and better counselling and psychological support are among the recommendations Uniting Vic.Tas made to a Victorian Parliamentary hearing into historical forced adoptions.

The recommendations were made as part of a submission by Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike and Uniting Heritage Service manager Catriona Milne to the Victorian Government’s Historical Forced Adoptions in Victoria Inquiry hearings in Melbourne on Wednesday 24 February.

The inquiry is hearing how individuals and organisations, such as Uniting Vic.Tas, have responded to historical forced adoptions and the support being provided by organisations to both those who were adopted and to their families.

Uniting Vic.Tas takes the issue of forced adoption very seriously and we acknowledge they caused significant grief, pain and trauma over many years.

We are committed to ensuring every person who was adopted and their families have full and complete access to their records and information from that time and to provide all the support they need through this often difficult and very emotional process.

We fully support the Inquiry as an opportunity for everyone to better understand the enduring and long-lasting impacts of forced adoption and the ways support services and responses to forced adoptions can be further strengthened.

As part of our submission, we told the Inquiry about our Uniting Heritage Service, which provides support to people, who as children, spent time in out-of-home care, foster care or who went through adoption through the former Presbyterian, Methodist and Uniting churches and our predecessor organisations.

The Uniting Heritage Service has become a national leader in providing both those who went through forced adoptions and their families with access to their information and records and providing them with support and care.

Through this free service families can access historical information, photos, records and documents dating back to 1890.

As part of our submission to the Inquiry, we also commended the Victorian Government’s 2012 apology to people affected by forced adoptions in Victoria.

See more information on the Uniting Heritage Service.