Intimate partner violence support available now through Escaping Violence Payment trial program

Uniting Vic.Tas, the lead agency delivering the Escaping Violence Payment (EVP) along with eight other UnitingCare Network consortium organisations across Australia, want to clarify there is help available now for people experiencing intimate partner violence.

“We want to clarify that immediate support for people wanting to leave intimate partner violence is available now through the Escaping Violence Payment (EVP) trial program.”

“Although the Prime Minister announced on Wednesday the Leaving Violence Payment program would begin in July 2025, people can continue to access help through the EVP.

“There has been some confusion over several aspects of the Escaping Violence Payment including the numbers of rejected applications and wait times for payment.

Since the trial started in October 2021, approximately 12 per cent of applicants have been found to be ineligible for the program as they don’t meet the criteria.

“Every applicant receives support whether it’s through EVP or if they are determined to not be eligible for EVP, we provide comprehensive information about alternative support services and referral pathways aimed at supporting a violence-free life.

“Wait times for applicants consistently improved during the trial. The average time between confirming an applicant’s eligibility and the first cash payment is now three days.

“The EVP program is about more than just providing financial assistance. Packages are tailored to each person’s individual needs and includes referral pathways to counselling or housing support.

“EVP provides flexible payments options tailor to a person’s individual needs and circumstances, alongside other supports designed to give people escaping intimate partner violence choice and control with what they need when they need it most.”

“To date, the Escaping Violence Payment has helped almost 60,000 people leave intimate partner violence. To apply for the Escaping Violence Payment call 1800 EVP EVP (1800 387 387) or visit unitingvictas.org.au/escaping-violence-payment.”

Background:

Uniting Vic.Tas delivers 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 and UnitingCare Australia. Uniting Vic.Tas delivers the program in the Northern Territory.

The eligibility criteria for the Escaping Violence Payment are determined by the Federal Government. To be eligible a person must be:

  • 18 years or older
  • An Australian citizen, permanent resident or holder of a protected special category visa living in Australia
  • Planning to change or have changed their living arrangements within the last 12 weeks due to intimate partner violence
  • Experiencing financial stress and have not accessed EVP in the past 12 months

The EVP program has a high number of self-referrals (82 per cent) compared to agency referrals (18 per cent) indicating that the program is reaching a new cohort that has not already engaged with the existing family violence sector.

Self-referrals receive additional support from the program including risk screening, case planning and support with linkages and referral pathways.

The program focuses on tailoring each support package and payment options to the applicants own individual needs and circumstances.

Media enquiries: Cameron Tait 0407 801 231 – [email protected]

Share the warmth this winter.

A warm meal can go a long way in supporting someone experiencing crisis, especially during the colder months.

That’s why Uniting operate community meal programs right across Victoria and Tasmania.

From St Kilda to Sale and Ballarat to Bendigo, our meal programs offer community, connection and a hearty meal.

They also connect families and individuals to other services to support with housing, mental health, family violence, employment, disability and more.

One of these programs is Hartley’s Community Meals.

Nestled in the heart of Prahran, Hartley’s has been working to break down the stigma of food relief while supporting community and connection for over 30 years.

While everyone’s welcome, most of Hartley’s patrons are rough sleepers, crisis accommodation residents or those who can’t cook for themselves or can’t afford groceries due to issues including loss of employment, low income, family violence, increased cost-of-living and struggles with mental health.

The service has long offered vital support to the community but the team at Hartley’s is now seeing an exponential growth in need.

“We’re seeing a lot of new faces come into Hartley’s,” says Hartley’s Team Leader, Bryce.

“Last year we had over 2,000 different people come through the doors to have a meal with us.”

For many the service is much more than just a meal and a chat. Hartley’s is a gateway to other Uniting services to support people experiencing rough sleeping, family violence, financial insecurity, mental ill health, unemployment and more.

“We’re doing outreach more than we’ve ever done before,” says Bryce.

“Many people who come to the service present as homeless. They could be rough sleeping on the streets, they could be staying in their cars, or they might be in-between different accommodations.

“A lot more people are experiencing financial struggles. Whether they’re waiting for their next paycheck to come in or their pension. We’re also seeing many who are escaping family violence.”

Hartley’s volunteers with heart.

A service like Hartley’s can’t operate without volunteers.

“We have over 100 wonderful volunteers on our roster,” says Bryce.

One of these wonderful volunteers is Glennie, 81, who has been volunteering with Hartley’s for over two years. Her colourful hair and larger-than-life smile are hard to miss.

Volunteering with Hartley’s has given Glennie a new appreciation for what she has.

“When I get home, I open my door and I think how lucky I am. How fortunate,” she says.

“I work on Tuesdays, and sometimes people come in saying this is their first meal since Sunday. They haven’t eaten in a few days. It’s heartbreaking.”

Glennie has also faced adversity herself.

“My son took his own life 20 years ago, which is probably the most devastating thing that can happen to any parent,” she says.

“I was fortunate enough to have some great help. I’m a strong believer in paying it back because I say a little goes so far.”

Glennie believes the personal challenges she’s endured have allowed her to better understand and connect with the people who seek support at Hartley’s.

“Knowing how it feels to have your world crash around you, I feel connection and empathy for those who come into Hartley’s,” she says.

“Hardship can happen to any of us really. It’s just the way life deals out to you.

“But nothing gives me more pleasure than to see a smile on their face and hear their laughter. To know that I’ve brightened their day.”

Another wonderful volunteer is Jim, who in April reached a milestone of 11 years with Hartley’s.

Over the past decade, Jim has witnessed the devastating need for the service.

“We probably average about 70 people coming in a day, sometimes even up to 100,” he says.

“Winter’s a hard month. During this time most people come in almost every day. We get people who come from quite far away too. This guy, Ned*, he lives 25, 30km from here.”

With soaring rents, low wages, and a severe shortage of social and affordable housing, the hope of finding any kind of safe and secure home, putting food on the table, or paying an electricity bill is becoming a challenge for far too many.

“People’s situations are getting more and more dire. You can see it in the way they carry themselves. They’re hunched over. Exhausted,” says Jim.

“You hear people come in and say they haven’t eaten for two or three days.

“Even people who are working and earning an income come here for emergency relief and meals.

“If they’re not managing, how about others who are doing it tougher?”

Jim understands that for many a warm meal and chat can be a lifeline.

“Every little bit we can give them, it just makes their day, and then they know there are people who care about them,” he says.

With your help we can be there for people of all ages and stages of life when they need us most, thanks to programs like Hartley’s.

Donate now 

Decision on second injecting room ‘will lead to more drug-related harm’

We, at Uniting Vic.Tas, the community services organisation of the Uniting Church of Victoria and Tasmania, are extremely disappointed by Victorian Government’s decision not to proceed with the trial of a second medically supervised injecting service in the Melbourne CBD.

Medically supervised injecting rooms are a vital and life-saving harm reduction response.

The first medically supervised injecting room in North Richmond achieved its objectives of reducing drug-related harms, improving access to treatment, wraparound health-related support and offering live-saving interventions and preventing 63 fatal overdoses since 2018.

The need for a second one in Melbourne is clear. Data from the Victorian Coroner’s Court showed that Melbourne CBD had the highest number of public fatal heroin overdoses of any local government area.

We should be moving towards, not away, from a Public Health Model for understanding and responding to drug use. This means that the fundamental objective of drug policy should be to reduce the harm of drug use, keep people safe and provide pathways to wellness.

At a time when the sector is calling for public drug-testing facilities, decriminalising small amounts of drugs and more safe injecting sites, this announcement feels like a step back.

People who use drugs are part of our community. They need to be safe. It is important that we fight back against outdated, harmful stereotypes and meet international standards by supporting people through health-based responses that are proven to work.

The decision not to go ahead with a second medically supervised injecting room in the Melbourne CBD will only lead to more drug overdoses and more drug-related deaths and this is why we strongly encourage the Government to re-consider this decision.

While we congratulate the governments decision to support a hydromorphone trial and increase services in the CBD, increase access to Naloxone and pharmacotherapy places, these alone will not provide gateways to treatment for some of society’s most vulnerable and stigmatised substance users and wont address all the factors contributing to overdose related deaths in the Melbourne CBD.

Get involved

There are lots of ways you can get involved and support our services here at Uniting.

Entertainment membership

You can support Uniting whilst having access to exclusive offers on travel, dining, shopping and more. It’s as easy as purchasing an Entertainment membership.

Uniting receives 20% of each membership sold, helping us continue to support those experiencing crisis and hardship across our programs and services in Victoria and Tasmania.

Subscribe here

 

In celebration

Considering a celebration gift for your birthday, wedding, anniversary or other special event?

We make celebrating with impact simple. You can ask your guests to make a donation to Uniting instead of buying you a gift. Just register your celebration with us and we will send out donation envelopes and supporting materials for you to give to your guests.

After your celebration, you will receive a letter which lists the names of those who have contributed along with the total amount you have raised. All donations above $2 will receive a tax-deductible receipt.

T 1800 668 426

E [email protected]

 

Run Melbourne

Get active and run or walk for Uniting.

Registrations are now open for Run Melbourne, on Sunday 21st July 2024. Lace up your runners and you can run, jog or walk whilst raising funds for individuals, families and communities facing vulnerability across Victoria and Tasmania.

Choose from:

  • 5.2km
  • 10km
  • 21.1km half marathon

Register today.

 

Tally Ho Village gathering

Our Heritage service is inviting former residents and their families to gather with people who lived at Tally Ho from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Saturday 16th March 2024, 10:30am-3pm with lunch.

Uniting Head Office, Level 4, 130 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, VIC, 3000.

RSVPS are essential.

Catriona Milne

T 0402 969 621

E [email protected]

Christopher Wade

T 0481 469 899

E [email protected]

 

Palm Sunday Rally

Uniting will once again be taking part in the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees.

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

Join us on 24 March 2024 in the Melbourne CBD and stand up for justice, decency and compassion. Learn more at refugeeadvocacynetwork.org.au

No bucks, no worries – serving even more people in Tasmania.

NoBucks Dining Hall provides more than just a meal, it also provides a sense of community and a safe place to make connections you can count on.

NoBucks was established in Hobart, Tasmania in 2007 by members of the Wesley Uniting Church congregation when the church was left a gift in a donor’s will.

Demand for services such as NoBucks are on the rise, with the latest ABS Census finding that more than 120,000 Tasmanians are living below the poverty line.

It was more timely than ever last year that NoBucks underwent a much-needed upgrade. With a newly fitted kitchen, our team of staff and volunteers is now able to produce around 65 two-course meals, five days a week – almost 50% more than what they previously produced.

The program has been able to expand its services beyond lunches – now providing packaged meals for emergency relief clients and other food relief services to locals experiencing homelessness or social isolation.

Volunteer, Suzanne has been there from the start.

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

“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.”

Investment properties used to support those fleeing violent homes.

An inspiring couple has donated the use of two homes to support people escaping family violence and are encouraging others to do the same.

The Melbourne couple donated the use of their two-bedroom house in Abbotsford eighteen months ago, and more recently donated the use of their three-bedroom home in Northcote.

They bought the Northcote property specifically for women with children who need more space.

“It’s an amazing contribution that gives women and children escaping family violence a real opportunity to leave dangerous homes and start afresh,” said Uniting Senior Manager for Housing Services, Louise Daniel.

The couple, who wish to be known as K and B, gave Uniting the use of the first house eighteen months ago in response to media articles highlighting the number of Australian women killed or impacted by violent partners every year.

“We both looked at each other and it was like an epiphany. We both thought about our house in Abbotsford and thought we can do something about this,” B said.

B who ran his own business for more than 30 years said he has always operated based on engaging with companies, products and people that feel right. The couple chose Uniting because of a newspaper article featuring General Manager Housing and Property Kristie Looney and her own story of being a young single mother at risk of homelessness.

If you are interested in donating the use of a property or want to know more go to Uniting Housing website or call 1800 329 133.

Uniting Vic.Tas op shops making a difference in our communities.

From Brunswick to Bendigo, Glenroy to Geelong West, Uniting Vic.Tas Op Shops are all about giving back to their local communities.

Our dedicated team of 60 staff and 400 volunteers are passionate about creating warm, welcoming and inclusive spaces.

We have 17 stores across metropolitan and regional Victoria and we’re growing. We hope to continue opening new shops each year as well as expand into Tasmania for the first time.

In 2023, we opened several new stores, including in the Bendigo CBD and Brunswick.

The Brunswick op shop, in the heart of busy Victoria Street, also features a fit for purpose warehouse, meeting rooms, sorting rooms and is the new headquarters for our partnerships and enterprise teams.

We continue to forge strong links with employment services creating new opportunities for young people and people with a disability.

This includes using our TADPAC print and design service and selling pottery products made by Fire and Clay in Melbourne.

Through our School Leaver Employment Support (SLES) – Pathways to Employment Program, we help school leavers with training, work and life skills and recently a group of young people have been putting these skills into practice by working at our op shops.

Over the past 12 months, we also celebrated a number of milestones, including the 50th anniversary of our Glenroy Op Shop.

Meanwhile, the City of Stonnington Volunteer Awards recognised the hardworking Prahran Op Shop team with the Community Group Award recognising their outstanding contribution and positive impact on the community.

Uniting Vic.Tas Op Shops Senior Manager Jacob Miller says the motto of our op shops is – discover, donate, volunteer, make a difference.

“Our volunteers tell us all the time about the sense of connection they have with their local community,” Jacob says.

“Every day, our op shops and our people make a difference and help improve the lives of people in need.

“Op shops are places where people gather, where they connect, where they can feel like they’re making a meaningful contribution to their communities.”

When somebody donates and shops at Uniting Op Shops, they are making a difference to their local community and supporting sustainability and the environment.

Every donation made to our op shops goes towards funding the programs Uniting Vic.Tas delivers.

This includes our crisis support and emergency relief services, providing hot meals for people sleeping rough as well as help for families experiencing financial hardship, such as food boxes, and support with living expenses such utility bills, medical and housing costs.

We introduced a new rewards program, RewardingU, where shoppers earn points for every dollar spent at our op shops. RewardingU members can redeem these points on vouchers to spend in-store and be the first to hear about events, sales and new op shop openings.

We’re proud of our op shops, our staff and volunteers, our continued growth and the new opportunities ahead of us in 2024.

Locate your nearest Uniting Op Shop

Our statement on January 26

January 26 is not a day of celebration for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. 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 over 230 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.

The outcome of the 2023 referendum, while deeply disappointing and a source of tremendous pain for many First Nations people, only deepens Uniting Vic.Tas’ strong support for the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and reaffirms our solidarity with First Nations communities in their ongoing fight for self-determination.

We deeply regret the legacy of past Uniting Church policies and practices that continue to detrimentally impact the identity, dignity, and spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Uniting Church’s founding denominations, Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian, cooperated with governments in implementing racist and paternalistic policies which forced people from their traditional lands, resettled them in other places without their agreement and removed generations of children from their families. These and other actions caused incalculable suffering, grief, loss and trauma to parents, children, and kin, and the loss of languages and cultural identity.

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. 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 has long called for a change in the date of our National Day and has urged the Federal Government to promote community discussion towards finding a date 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.

Uniting Walks Against Family Violence in Melbourne

In a year where we continue to count women killed by acts of violence, walking in solidarity with victim survivors is an act of hope.

Uniting staff from a range of services across the state joined the 5000+ person strong march last Friday, November 24, marking the start of the 16 Days of Activism campaign in Victoria. 

The Walk Against Family Violence was a moment for us all to come together and act in solidarity. We walk for many different reasons, but we are all united in our goal of creating a future where everyone is safe, equal, and respected.

Read the full address by Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Chair of Respect Victoria 

We belong to a unique team of hard working and dedicated professionals who operate with a strong sense of justice, and a commitment to those we walk alongside. 

We can’t lose sight of the importance of looking after ourselves and recognise that sometimes we need to reach out for more support if we feel we’re struggling. Please take advantage of the resources and support available.

If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, please reach out to one of the following services.

In emergencies:

  • Victoria Police. If you are experiencing family violence, concerned for your safety, or in an emergency situation please call 000 for urgent police assistance. More information can be found on the family violence page of the Victoria Police website.

For general counselling and support:

  • Safe Steps is available to support people in Victoria who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing family violence. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, please call 1800 015 188 or try their live web chat service available 9am-9pm, Monday – Friday. Chats are anonymous and accessible to anyone experiencing violence or concerned about the welfare of a loved one. More information can be found on the Safe Steps website.
  • The Orange Door provides help for people experiencing family violence, or who need assistance with the care and wellbeing of children and young people. To find a service near you, visit the Orange Door website.
  • 1800 Respect is a national hotline operated by trained counsellors. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support people impacted by family violence, please call 1800 737 732. More information can be found on the 1800 Respect website.
  • Sexual Assault Crisis Line is a state-wide, after-hours, confidential, telephone crisis counselling service for people who have experienced sexual assault. It operates between 5pm weeknights through to 9am the next day and throughout weekends and public holidays. You can call the crisis line on 1800 806 292. During work hours, calls will be diverted to your local Sexual Assault Service. 

Use Sexual Assault Services Victoria‘s Specialist Sexual Assault Service Map to find a service near you. 

For men:

  • No to Violence is the peak body for organisations and individuals working with men to end family violence. No to Violence operates the Men’s Referral Service (MRS) which provides telephone counselling, information and referrals – call 1300 766 491. More information can be found on the No to Violence website.
  • MensLine Australia is a telephone and online counselling service for men with family and relationship concerns. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, please call 1300 789 978. More information can be found on the MensLine Australia website.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

For people from multicultural backgrounds:

  • InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence is a specialist family violence service that works with multicultural women, their families and their communities. Call 1800 755 988 or visit the InTouch website.

For older people:

  • Seniors Rights Victoria (SRV) provides information and advice to help prevent elder abuse and safeguard the rights of older people. If you or someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, call SRV’s confidential helpline: 1300 368 821. More information can be found on the Senior Rights Victoria website.

For LGBTIQ+ people and their families:

  • Rainbow Door is a free specialist LGBTIQA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Gender Diverse, Intersex, Queer, Asexual, BrotherBoys, SisterGirls) helpline providing information, support, and referral to all LGBTIQA+ Victorians, their friends and family during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. Call 1800 729 367 or visit the Rainbow Door website.

Other referral pathways:

  • Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) provides assistance to people with legal problems in areas of criminal law, family law and some civil law matters. They provide an interpreter service in 14 other languages. Call 1300 792 387 for more information. More information can be found on the Victorian Legal Aid website.
  • Victims Support Agency is the official Victorian Government Agency helping people in Victoria manage the effects of violent crime, including legal considerations. Please call 1800 819 817 or the text service on 0427 767 891. More information can be found on the Victims Support Agency website.

Bronwyn Pike launches national homelessness magazine in Hobart

In early November, Bronwyn Pike launched the ‘Poverty and Homelessness’ edition of Parity magazine at the Hobart Town Hall. Parity is a national magazine published monthly by the Council to Homeless Persons.

Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. In Bronwyn’s opening remarks she called for collective action to challenge the myth that Australia is a country where everyone gets a fair go.

“People have a right to the essentials of life – safe, secure and affordable housing, decent income supports, nutritious food, and opportunities to form meaningful connections. We know the problems. We know the solutions. We just need governments to have the courage to make the policy decisions and address the structural and systemic issues driving two of the biggest issues in Australian society”

Other speakers included:

  • Dr Cameron Parsell, University of Queensland: “The Nexus Between Poverty and Homelessness”
  • Lived experience panel
  • Dr Heather Holst, Victorian Residential Tenancies Commissioner: “Renting and Poverty”
  • Matthew Lloyd-Cape, Per Capita Centre for Equitable Housing: “Housing and Poverty”
  • Panel Discussion: Can we end homelessness by ending poverty?

You can watch a recording of the event and find a copy of the November edition here.

Young Carer art competition.

To celebrate Carers Week this year, the Young Carer Team within Carer Gateway hosted a fun and heart-warming engagement activity for the young carers (aged 5-25) in their program.

We invited the carers to participate in an art competition themed ‘What or who inspires me?’, where we encouraged them to create artwork and tell us in a few words why they made the art, and why this person or thing featured in their art inspires them.

The competition was split into two age groups of 5-12 year-olds, and 13-25 year-olds, and prizes were awarded to first, second and third-placed entries. There was also an additional prize for best the submission from a Victorian regional entry.

Winners and their artworks

A big thank you to everyone who participated in this competition and took the time to create these pieces, and congratulations to the winners! We were so amazed and proud of all the submissions that came in, and wished we could have made everyone winners.

Here are the winners of the competition, along with their incredible artworks and inspiring blurbs.

5-12 year-old winners:

First place: Kayla, 12 years old

“What inspires me? Nature! I’ve made a wreath out of vines and decorated it with colourful flowers.

“The beauty of nature makes me feel so happy, free and inspired.

“I love seeing the beautiful flowers, the majestic gums, gorgeous sunsets and the peaceful feeling I get walking in the forest.

“You can’t beat nature, and nature is everywhere.”

Second place: Xavier, 9 years old

“My inspiration for this piece of artwork was our poor animals affected by pollution.

“Those animals inspired me to be more conscious of my waste to help save the environment (especially animals).

“I make sure that I put all my waste in the correct bins and reuse everything that I can, like reusable shopping bags.

“I also make waste-free lunches for school and use second-hand items such as books and clothing”.

Third place: Hayden, 6 years old

Hayden chose to paint Samson from the Bible.

“I like Samson. I want to be strong by like Samson.

“I want to use the things God has made me good at (my strengths) to help others.”

13-25 year old winners:

First place: Kiara, 14 years old

“My name is Kiara, and I am 14 years old.

“I created this painting because lions have a close connection to my heart.

“This is because my dad passed away when I was 4 and he loved lions.

“What inspires me is the Lion of Judah from the bible. The Lion of Judah is a symbol of nobility, strength, and bravery. I have tried to replicate many images of the Lion of Judah and I now hang this in my room to remind myself to stay strong and always be brave, giving anything a go.”

Second place: Chantelle, 19 years old

“The drawing is of Frida Kahlo.

“She is one of Mexico’s greatest artists and was born in 1907.

She is well known for standing up for her rights and going against social norms.

“Frida was alive during a difficult time and succeeded through her life through her art even though people doubted her.

“As I love doing art, Frida inspires me.”

Third place: Bella, 15 years old

“I am inspired by a lot of things. One of the things I am inspired by the most is the arts. Theatre, dance, music, I love it all.

“Performing is my home. It is what makes me feel free. It is what keeps me going. I also love drawing, and painting, and reading, and writing.

“Through my art, I write my own stories. I march to the beat of my drum. I dance to the rhythm of my heart.

“All these things are what inspire me to live, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without two people. My wonderful, beautiful parents. They are behind it all. They are the ones who help me get to where I want to be.

“That’s what this picture represents. With my painting and my performing, I write my own story, but behind the story, are my parents because they are the ones who truly inspire me.”

Regional winner: Sahnae, 14 years old

“I have created this piece on behalf of my brother with autism.

“I drew Mario Kart and safari animals because my brother loves Mario Kart and animals.

“I also drew a dog because I love to train my dogs.

“And lastly, I drew a fry pan of me cooking because I love to cook for my brother!

“My brother inspires me that no matter what happens just keep pushing through and don’t let anyone or anything stop you.”

Carer Gateway is a program funded by the Australian Government that offers a free and diverse range of short-term services to help young carers improve their wellbeing and manage their caring role with their social life, work life or study.

Learn more at Carer Gateway – Young Carers or call us on 1800 422 737.

My home means the world to me.

Jamie has been living independently at his home in Melbourne since 2013.

“My home means the world to me. If I didn’t have it, I’d be stuck in a group home,” says Jamie.

“Just having that security. It’s good to know that we won’t get turfed (thrown) out.”

Jamie shares how important his connection to his neighbours and community are to him.

“I grew up in this area. I feel connected here and I’m well known in the community.

My neighbour from across the road sends me a text every night to make sure I’m ok. It’s good to know that people care.”

Jamie lives with a disability and does hydrotherapy four times per week to keep active. He is also part of a group of residents working to establish a community garden at his property.

“It’s important to me because it gives me purpose and something else to care about. It would be good if a few more people get involved.”

Learn more about Uniting’s Housing Services.

‘It’s a lifeline’: A Long-Term Approach to Improving Energy Support Programs for Households Facing Vulnerability.

Many homes in Australia provide little thermal comfort and these homes are mostly occupied by people who are least able to improve them, such as renters and low-income homeowners. Energy hardship for these individuals and families manifests in a variety of ways including difficulty paying bills, energy rationing, and negative effects on health and other life areas.

Energy Efficiency Services, such as that offered by Uniting Vic.Tas, work with individuals and families on low-incomes and those experiencing energy hardship to support households to better understand and manage their energy use and costs. They work with people to modify energy use behaviour as well as maximise access to financial supports such as rebates, concessions, retrofits and appliance replacement schemes.

This research project sought to understand the benefits and gaps of the Uniting Energy Support Service to determine ‘what works’ and what actions are needed to address the drivers and effects of energy hardship.

The research found that Uniting Energy Efficiency Service was highly valued by the majority of households and produced a range of positive energy, financial, health and wellbeing outcomes for individuals and families.

Yet, energy hardship persisted due to a range of complex ‘ecosystem’ factors beyond the control of households. Experiences of recurrent or ongoing poverty and poor-quality housing, intersected with factors such as negative landlord and energy retailer behaviour, which in turn exacerbated individual and familial factors, including poor health, disability, family circumstances and insecure employment.

The research also found that many households were already using less than the Australian average energy use, including a third of Victorian households, meaning that under-use rather than over-use is the substantive issue for many households. Some households were ‘rationing’ their energy use meaning they would go without necessary energy use (such as heating or cooking) to try and manage their bills.

Due to the value and positive impact evidenced by this study, Uniting Energy Efficiency Service can be seen both as a ‘front door’ and navigation partner to a wide range of further supports, and as an advocate and influencer for householders across the ecosystem. To achieve this, the service may need to expand its reach to and follow up with households.

It is essential that energy support goes in hand with broader support for people to deal with tenancy matters, access to quality housing, access to appropriate income support, and psychosocial and health support, among others. Addressing one set of factors influencing energy hardship without connection to the others cannot fully remedy energy hardship,

Read the summary report.

Read the full report.

 

Anti-Poverty Weeks 2023 wrap-up

Since 2002 Anti-Poverty Week (APW) has been active every year in the week around 17 October, the United Nations Day for the Eradication of Poverty, and encourages all Australians to take action and focus on positive solutions to end poverty.

This year, as the Referendum on the First Nations Voice to Parliament was held on 14 October, APW ran for an extended two weeks, from 15-27 October. 

Working with a network of diverse voices and organisations in order to increase awareness of poverty in Australia, APW aims to reach audiences who are not already at the forefront of this work, including younger Australians and Federal politicians. 

Uniting has two members who sit on the national network of co-chairs: our CEO Bronwyn Pike is the Victorian Co-chair alongside CEO FamilyCare David Tennant; while our Executive Officer, Tasmania Jeremy Pettet is the Tasmanian Co-chair alongside CEO Vinnies Tasmania, Heather Kent. 

Victorian event.

Last Monday we, together with FamilyCare and the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Wellbeing, marked the opening of Anti-Poverty Weeks 2023 with a discussion focusing on the question Why does Australia still accept child poverty, and what can be done about it?.

Marking the fourth year of co-Chairing Anti-Poverty Week in Victoria, Uniting CEO Bronwyn Pike opened the discussion with a reflection on what poverty in Australia is perceived as today, and what needs to be done to achieve real change.

“The Australian cultural narrative that we are a country where everyone gets ‘a fair go’ is a falsehood. It implies that we are on a level playing field, but we are not…

“In Australia, people relying on income support, single parents, women, children, and people with a disability are at the highest risk of living in poverty.

“The first statement I made in that list, people relying on income support payments, that decision is fair and squarely in the hands of our elected leaders. The groundswell of the Australian community (supporting raises to income support) determines the courage, or not, of our elected leaders to actually make choices.

“…the findings [about Poverty] might be new, but the solutions are the same, and we need governments to implement these solutions.”

Next, we heard from keynote speaker ANU Children’s Policy Centre Director Prof. Sharon Bessell who shared her research process and findings in the ongoing MOR for Children project, and the importance of listening to children impacted by poverty and recognising that poverty is a structural and not an individual issue. She also talked about the importance of policies and practices being child-inclusive and child-centred.

Finally, we heard from our panel of leaders in the work to end child poverty, fellow Victorian APW Co-chair and CEO of FamilyCare, David Tennant, Council of Single Mothers & their Children CEO Jenny Davidson, and Swinburne University of Technology Prof. Kay Cook who all spoke to the impacts of poverty on single mothers and their children, the weaponisation of the Child Support Scheme and how it can be used to financially abuse women, and how poverty in Australia is a direct policy choice that is made by Governments.

Tasmanian event

Later in the week, we co-hosted an ‘ending child poverty in Tasmania’ panel discussion at the Guilford Young College in Hobart, alongside Vinnies Tasmania. A panel of local leaders, researchers and youth advocates gathered to discuss their insights and aspirations towards building social equity and positive futures for all children growing-up in Tasmania, and were provided with a distinct opportunity to engage young people in the discussion around poverty in Tasmania, with much of the audience consisting of Year 12 students from the college.

The event began with the gracious gift of a Welcome to Country, delivered in language from Palawa man Legana Hughes, who also works as the Aboriginal Family and Community Support Worker at Uniting, before the panel was asked to reflect on the intersections of poverty and the impact on children within their areas of expertise. Panel members included National President of Vinnies Tasmania, Mark Gaetani, Melodee Estcourt, youth advocate and former GYC student, Dr Paul Blacklow, UTAS Lecturer, CEO of TasCOSS, Adrienne Piccone and Deputy Chair of FoodBank Tasmania Robert Higgins.

Nicole Day, Uniting Vic.Tas family services manager, represented Uniting in the panel discussion, and was asked to share how community service organisations, researchers, schools and government agencies need to work together to make a significant difference in the lives of children living in poverty in Tasmania.

“The work we do in the family services space, we’re not addressing child poverty from a dollar value lense, we work within the Tasmanian Child and Youth Wellbeing Framework…

“The six domains in that framework are what we look at every time we receive a referral for a family that comes into our services. So, for many families, we’ll be linking them into emergency relief services or linking them into food relief because we can’t work productively with a family where there are empty bellies, and the next meal or survival is the main thought for that family. We need to address everything in the work to take them into the next step of thriving.

“To give a real-world example; I’ve been supporting a young man access Centrelink, he lives with autism, and he has come from a family where mum receives a disability pension, there’s family violence in the home so there’s significant trauma for mum and the other children in the home, child services have had a lengthy engagement with that family.

“He’s now moved out of that environment and is setting up his own home. I sat with him in his Centrelink appointment this week. We went into Centrelink as he didn’t have the capacity to do it online. The way the questions were asked, he had to look to me to have every single question translated.

“Even our welfare system, that is set up to support people in need, does not support people in need as it doesn’t recognise that; to think of it like this, the people that write the questions are educated, experienced, and literate. We’re asking the questions to people who haven’t had the same access to education, literacy, etc.”

This Christmas, many families face impossible choices

Millions of Australian families are dreading the countdown to Christmas.

Forced to make devastating decisions between feeding their children, affording household bills and purchasing school supplies – Christmas will be a trimmed down affair for many.

For over a decade, Uniting Family Services Senior Practitioner, Raeleen, has made it her mission to support families teetering on the edge of crisis.

“My role at Uniting is to get care teams together and put support systems in place so children can stay living with the people who love them,” says Raeleen.

“We work with families to ensure that children aren’t relinquished because of their high needs and disabilities.”

Life can change on a dime

In her years of supporting families, Raeleen has seen how quickly someone’s life circumstances can change.

“I support one mother who grew up in a lovely area and home. She married, had five children and lived the white picket fence life,” she says.

“Then, one day her husband passed away and everything changed. It happened in 12 hours. She went from having everything to nothing.

“I don’t think people realise that your life can change on a dime.”

Raeleen has heart-wrenching conversations every day with struggling family members at breaking point.

“I’m all alone. I’m 78 years old and I don’t know what to do anymore. But I love my grandchild and I don’t want him to be taken away from me.”

Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles call in a state of panic and hopelessness as they face the agonising decision of relinquishing the care of their children.

“My husband left me this morning, he said he can’t cope. I don’t know how I can care for my children on my own.”

After struggling through years of insufficient support and no respite, some families feel they have no choice but to give up as they can no longer cope with the demands of their children’s disabilities among other pressures.

Donate today
Ella’s story.

At just four years old, Ella* found herself without a family.

Her biological mother, struggling with alcohol and drug dependency along with complex mental illness, could no longer care for her.

Ella was born with foetal alcohol syndrome and as a result lives with a hearing impairment, making it hard for her to communicate with others.

Extended family members, Tom* and Georgia* worried what Ella’s future would look like entering into the foster care system so young.

The pair considered kinship care but had their reservations.

“They were very unsure because they were under 25 at the time and newly engaged,” says Raeleen.

“The child had also experienced significant trauma. They weren’t sure if they could support her.”

Raeleen worked closely with Tom and Georgia, knowing that with just a little bit of support and guidance the couple could be a family to Ella.

“We were able to support the couple to learn sign language, so they could communicate with Ella,” says Raeleen. “They sent me this wonderful video of them all talking together and thanking me for helping them to communicate.

“She’s very loved this little girl. They’re a family now, she’s such a happy child.”

Donate today

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

Compassion goes a long way

Generosity, kindness and compassion are what can get a family through crisis.

“Anything you can spare can change a person’s life in a way you can’t begin to imagine,” says Raeleen.

“Because when you’re living in your car or sitting in a home in the dark with no electricity, it’s a really dehumanising place to be.

“These moments are going to become these children’s memories. Our children deserve to grow up with very strong and happy memories of childhood.”

If you’re able, please help us help families in need.

Let’s ensure no one misses out this Christmas.

Donate today

Uniting’s Communities for Children launches Adolescent Family Violence and (Cyber)bullying Prevention Project.

We’re partnering with La Trobe University and VICSEG New Futures through the Communities for Children (CfC) Hume Program to deliver a new project which aims to help prevent adolescent family violence and (cyber)bullying in the Hume community.

This innovative project will use holistic, school and community approaches to preventing adolescent violence in private (domestic/family), public (community and school) and cyber spheres. It will focus on pre-adolescent children in primary school, 10-12 year olds, as well as their parents and teachers.

The project will be grounded in intersectionality, social inclusion and cultural awareness, with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse, and LGBTIQA+ communities as front and centre throughout the project.

The project development and implementation will be contextualised in Hume and managed by VICSEG New Futures, which holds specialist knowledge and prior experience in child psychology, family violence and bullying, and youth development. Meanwhile, La Trobe University’s Computing, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences School will lead in researching, developing and evaluating the ICT and cybersecurity resources and strategies for this project.

As Facilitating Partner, Uniting will take the lead in planning, implementing, managing, monitoring, and reporting the day-to-day and annual activities of the project.

This project is supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

Learn more about Communities for Children Hume or our Family Violence Services.

Mariam’s story as a young parent.

Mariam* is a 23-year-old mother who came to the Young Parents’ Program (YPP) as a self-referral looking for support with her parenting.

At the time, Mariam was pregnant with her second child and experiencing pressure from her family to terminate the pregnancy, despite wanting to continue with it herself. She often appeared anxious in one-on-one conversations and struggled with her frustration and coping with the daily parenting of her young daughter.

Mariam experienced significant difficulties after the birth of her first child, suffering from Post Natal Depression (PND) and mental health issues which impacted her ability to bond and breastfeed. A survivor of family violence, Mariam reported repeating some of the damaging parenting choices she had experienced from her parents. She told her YPP Connector that she desperately wanted to break the cycle of responding emotionally and with anger towards her child.

Throughout her second pregnancy, Mariam’s YPP connector worked closely with other allied health professionals to provide her with holistic support. She was referred to the Orange Door which helped Mariam receive ongoing support from Family Services. With encouragement, Mariam attended a parenting program, facilitated by YPP, and she was referred to counselling for both herself and her daughter which helped improve her attachment and their relationship.

Mariam attended the weekly social group component of YPP which offers an interactive and safe environment designed for young parents to spend quality time together, whilst allowing their children to play in a supported space. She consistently attended this group, both online and in person, and quickly developed connections with other young parents.

As a result of the Young Parents Program support, varied interventions, and access to the social support group, Mariam delivered her second child without experiencing PND and was able to instantly bond and breast feed. This was a significant milestone in Mariam’s personal journey. She continues to foster a healthier attachment to her children whilst continuing to receive support to manage her ongoing trauma and parenting struggles.

Mariam has found childcare for her elder daughter which provides respite and time to bond with her newborn. She reports feeling calmer and more confident in her parenting daily. She continues to attend the peer support group each week and is a valuable contributor to discussions, offering support to other group members.

Despite residing outside of Hume, Mariam continues to travel to access the YPP groups and maintain relationships. Due to her positive experience with YPP, Mariam also encouraged her partner to contact YPP and he is now also engaging positively with a YPP connector.

Uniting through its Communities for Children Hume Program is a facilitating partner for Anglicare Victoria’s Young Parents’ Project since 2021, with funding from the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

Learn more about Communities for Children Hume.

*This is a true story about real people, based on a project report provided by Anglicare Victoria Young Parents Program.

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

Uniting Walks for YES in Melbourne

We’ve heard the message from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders through the Uluru Statement from the Heart seeking Voice, Treaty, Truth and we accept the generous offer contained therein to walk together towards a better future.

And we’ve heard from our First Nations’ workforce from across Victoria and Tasmania who came together and discussed the importance of Uniting, as a mainstream organisation, standing as an ally in the push for constitutional recognition and a Voice to Parliament.

Therefore, we were proud to have the opportunity to act as an organisation and participate in the recent Yes23 Walk for the Yes campaign in Melbourne, with around 15-20 staff walking and holding high the Uniting banner as a solid statement of our commitment for reconciliation.

Our statement in support of YES

Millions of reasons to care: Carers Week 2023.

Anyone can be a carer.

In fact, one in nine Australians are.

This week, 15th – 21st October, marks the beginning of Carers Week. An annual campaign to raise awareness of, offer support to and bring to light the challenges faced by the 2.65 million Australians who provide care to family members or friends living with a disability, experiencing mental ill health, or struggling with a chronic illness.

Carers’ work is often unseen, unsung and, not to mention, unpaid.

Australian carers provide 2.2 billion hours of informal care each year with the cost of replacing this care valued at $77.9 billion.

This year’s theme, ‘Millions of Reasons to Care’, aims to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution unpaid carers make to friends, family and neighbours — our local community.

Our carers make up a diverse range of ages, cultures, experiences and responsibilities but what they all have in common is their ability to balance their caring responsibilities with other responsibilities like work, study and their physical and mental health.

Uniting Vic.Tas is one of the providers of Carer Gateway, a national program funded by the Australian Government, which offers a diverse range of support services for unpaid carers to improve their own wellbeing.

Meet Kiara.

Watch the full video about Kiara’s story.

Between balancing high school, dancing, piano practice, and spending time with friends, the 14-year-old is also a young carer.

“At the age of four my dad passed away due to a skydiving accident, flipping my world upside down,” she says.

“After this, my mum’s mental health suffered a lot. Her illness is invisible, but she faces lots of challenges.

“She has to be really strong and I have to be strong with her. That’s how I became a carer.”

Kiara’s caring responsibilities range from washing dishes and vacuuming to offering emotional support and simply being there for her mum.

For Kiara, caring for her Mum has only made their relationship stronger. However, her caring responsibilities don’t come without their challenges.

“The hardest thing about being a young carer is time. As for anyone, time is precious and sometimes it can tear a chunk out of my week. I can be tired and pushed to my mental capacity,” she says.

“However, I would do anything to see my mum smile.”

Meeting Kiara and her mother, Elisha, it is undeniable the love they share for one another.

“My message to other young carers out there is despite the daily challenges and obstacles of life, never give up and trust the ones you love,” says Kiara.

Meet Danielle.

A pillar of resilience and tenacity, her life story is one you might one day read about.

“People say I need to write a book about my life,” says Danielle. “We will see, maybe when I get the time.”

Leaving home at just 11-years-old, Danielle has learnt to be self-reliant from a young age. Despite the challenges she has endured, her positivity, humour and passion for life is contagious.

Danielle has been navigating family court for nine years, fighting for the custody of her five children after she escaped a violent 10-year relationship.

She became a carer when her daughter experienced an extremely traumatic event at school, causing her mental health to deteriorate. Danielle also cares for her six-year-old son who lives with autism.

“The support that Uniting gave me and my daughter, I don’t say this light heartedly , but I don’t know how I would have gotten through that first year without them,” she says.

“Uniting was always there. Whether it was to come over in the mornings to try and get my daughter up for school, book psychiatrist appointments or just to sit there with me and let me cry it out.

“They really held my family together in that first year.”

Uniting supported the family to get a therapy dog.

“The dog changed our lives,” says Danielle.

“My daughter left the house for the first time in six months. She suffers from agoraphobia and the day we got the dog she took him for a walk with me. And then the day after went on her own.

“I cried like a baby.”

When asked how Danielle has managed to stay so resilient in the face of extreme challenges, she answered, “by always looking for the positives.

“With everything I’ve been through, I’ve just chosen to learn from it. Take the positives and that’s what made me who I am today.”

A gateway to care.

If you’re looking to improve your wellbeing and quality of life as an unpaid carer, Carer Gateway is here to support you.

For more information visit Carer Gateway.

Together for change.

Your compassion has the power to change lives. Here’s how you can get involved and support our services at Uniting.

Help us fight hunger.

For over 30 years Food For Families has brought local communities together to donate non-perishable food and household essential items to those facing hardship.

As the rising cost of living continues to devastate individuals and families, we need your continued support.

Register your support today.

T: 1800 668 426

 

Support Uniting and save.

Purchase an Entertainment Book membership and get exclusive offers on travel, dining, shopping and more, all while supporting Uniting.

20% of every membership sold goes towards Uniting’s vital programs and services, meaning we can continue to support those experiencing crisis and hardship across Victoria and Tasmania.

To renew or purchase your membership, visit subscribe.entertainment.com.au/fundraiser/18438m3

 

Lace up your runners

Get ready to stretch those legs for this year’s Melbourne Marathon event.

On Sunday 15th October you can walk or run to support those facing crisis.

There are five distances to choose from:

  • 42.195km marathon
  • 21.1km half marathon
  • 10km run
  • 5km run
  • 3km walk.

Register for this event

 

Shop to support your local community

Do your weekly shopping and support Uniting.

If you shop at Ritchies make sure to join the Community Benefit Program. All you have to do is grab a Ritchies card or download the app and select Uniting. Not only will you receive exclusive membership offers but every month a percentage of what you spend in store will go towards supporting people in crisis.

Visit, ritchies.com.au/loyalty/ritchies-card

 

Celebrate with impact

If you’re celebrating a birthday, wedding, anniversary or other special event, consider a celebration gift.

A celebration gift is simply asking your guests to make a donation to Uniting instead of buying a gift.

Register your event with us and we’ll send donation envelopes and supporting materials.

P 1800 668 426

E [email protected] 

Thank you for standing with those in crisis.

We don’t always see it but behind closed doors many Australians are struggling. Through no fault of their own, the rising cost of living has pushed many families and individuals into crisis.

Thankfully your support this winter has made those tough times that little bit easier. Your donations have provided people in need with food relief, safe housing, mental health support and more.

“Things are getting harder for people,” said Senior Manager, Maidie.

“We are seeing a very high number of people contacting us because they’re struggling and there’s a big demand for all our programs. Everyone’s stories are different; everyone experiences crisis differently.”

Maidie explains how grateful her team are for donations.

“We are so thankful for any donation,” she said.

“Donations are a really practical way of supporting people doing it tough. It’s also lovely for people who come here to know that their community cares and want to help.”

We are so grateful for everyone who has dug deep to help us help others in winter.

Thanks from Nancy

Last time we spoke with Nancy* she bravely shared her story in our recent Winter Appeal.

Just over a year ago, she found herself alone and afraid for the future. She was a new migrant in Australia and having just left a violent marriage she was unsure who to turn to.

With Uniting’s support, Nancy is now happily living in her own apartment and completing a university degree in data analysis.

Today, meeting Nancy, you would never imagine the hardships she has faced. Her positivity and resilience are inspiring.

“Thank you so much Uniting for the amazing help you did in my life,” she said. “I’m so grateful and wish the same peace in my life for everyone.

“Everyone has challenges, down times in their life. Don’t give up. Life is like a heartbeat, it goes up, down, up, down.”

Ringwood Mazda show their support

Earlier this year, Ringwood Mazda partnered with Uniting’s Emergency Relief Service in Ringwood to raise vital funds for those facing crisis.

The business donated all proceeds from their International Women’s Day event in February and then donated a further $5,000 to Uniting in the months of May, June and July. Bringing their total donation to $20,000.

Team member at Uniting’s Ringwood service, Fleur, shared her gratitude to the Ringwood Mazda team.

“Ringwood Mazda’s donation has allowed us to purchase much needed non-perishable food to keep our client pantry stocked over winter,” she said.

“The number of people presenting to our service for food relief has greatly increased over recent months due to the rising cost of living, and without the generosity of the dealership we would find it difficult to support everyone who needs our assistance.”

Support those who need it most. Donate now.

Mental ill health doesn’t discriminate and neither should we.

October is mental health month. Latest figures show that two in five Australians will experience mental ill health at some point in their lives.

Next month serves as an important reminder to take time to care for ourselves and those around us, to fight to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions and to continue to educate ourselves.

Whether it touches us personally, our family, friends or community, mental ill health impacts all our lives. But there are many ways we can show our support:

Become a volunteer

Anthony volunteers as a Crisis Support worker at Uniting’s Lifeline in Prahran.

He supports people over the phone who may be facing a mental health crisis, and those who call asking for advice about a loved one or friend in trouble.

“I truly feel that I am making a difference,” said Anthony.

“My role is to be their ally, to let them know they are not alone, to acknowledge what they are going through and how it impacts them.”

Since volunteering at Lifeline, Anthony has found his outlook on life has shifted.

“This role gives me a lot of perspective. It serves as a reminder to feel grateful for what I have, and to equally recognise when to call out for help,” he said.

“I feel very grateful being able to do this role and I always leave work feeling positive.”

Learn more about volunteering at Lifeline
Fundraise with us

You can partner with Uniting to raise vital funds for those who need mental health assistance.

Step out of your comfort zone, try something new and enjoy exercise. All things that help to promote and improve our mental health. Whether you walk, run, ride, or swim, there’s a fun challenge out there for you.

How you can fundraise for us

Meet Team Life Cycle.

Earlier this year, a team of nine passionate cyclists took on the Murray to Moyne relay event to raise money for Uniting’s mental health services.

The team rode 520km all up, from Echuca to Port Fairy over two days.

“It was a buzz, an achievement, a team-bonding experience, fun, fabulous, fascinating and all in a good cause. We raised $5,627 for Uniting’s headspace program in Horsham,” said the team’s captain, Chris Morfoot.

Donate

Donating to our services is a great way to make a tangible impact your way.

Uniting delivers many vital mental health services within Victoria and Tasmania’s community including operating Lifelines in Ballarat and Prahran, headspace in Horsham, the Engagement Hub in St Kilda, the Hearing Voices program in Prahran and St Kilda and many more.

You can donate today to support our mental health programs

Just because your mental health is your own, doesn’t mean you have to manage it by yourself. If any of this content has been triggering for you, please reach out to:

Lifeline:  13 11 14

Respect: 1800 737 732

Giving children the future they deserve

Meet Christie*, an extraordinary foster carer who, along with her loving husband and two children, has dedicated over ten years to providing a safe home for children in need.

“We’d seen a lot of children who had been let down by their parents, who had been treated unwell,” said Christie. “We always would have loved another child. So, ten years ago we became foster carers.”

Christie and her family took on the challenge of fostering, driven by a deep compassion and strong belief that every child deserves a safe and nurturing home.

“Foster care is all about helping other people,” said Christie. “It’s about bringing a child into your family and giving them a chance at a brighter future.”

The family are currently caring for a three-year-old child.

“It’s been amazing since we’ve had the little one in our care. She’s just grown so much,” said Christie.

“When she came in, she was very shy, very quiet but now she’s just part of our family. Every day is rewarding for all of us. She’s a beautiful child.”

As a dedicated mother to her son and daughter, Christie already has a lot of experience caring for children. But she recognises fostering can have its added challenges. Especially for children, like her current foster child, who haven’t been given the best start to life.

“She’s not even four yet and she’s lived in six or seven different households,” said Christie, about their current foster child.

“She has been through a lot of trauma and we just want to care for her for as long as we can.”

Fostering has brought Christie’s family closer

Fostering has not only strengthened the bond within Christie’s family but has also offered valuable life lessons for her biological children.

“My definition of family and love hasn’t changed since fostering,” said Christie. “If anything, it’s made our family grow. We interact a lot more having a young child in the house. I think we are a lot closer.

“Our kids have grown from this experience, especially my daughter. I think it’s great for them to be part of it.”

Christie’s 18-year-old daughter, Jasmine*, shares her same perspective.

“I think young people can play an important part in fostering,” she said.

“It’s good for young people to realise what they had as a child and what some people have missed out on. I would definitely consider being a foster carer in the future.”

Creating new memories

Christie’s family are most excited about creating new memories together.

“Our current foster child hasn’t been able to experience things my brother and I have. Things you look forward to during the year, like Christmas,” said Jasmine.

“I’m excited for her to be able to create all those memories of times we were able to appreciate when we were children.”

“She has never experienced a birthday,” added Christie. “Next month she is turning four and we are going to have a big party. She is so excited, every day she talks about it.”

For Christie, her foster care goals are quite simple – give her foster children the opportunities they need for the life they want.

“The most important thing for us to achieve is just to give her the future she deserves,” said Christie.

“Because we do it with our children and we will do it with anyone else’s. She is a part of our life now. We just want to give her the best future she possibly can have.”

Become a foster carer with Uniting

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

‘Like sitting in a dark room’ – Ballarat forum gives a voice to the homelessness experience

A forum held in Ballarat this week as part of Homelessness Week has helped shine a light on the daily uncertainty, fear and the sense of hopelessness faced by people without a home.

The ‘Where to Now: Responding to Rough Sleeping Post-Covid’ forum was hosted by the Council to Homeless Persons and Uniting Vic.Tas and included speakers such as Homes Victoria CEO Sherri Bruinhout, Ripon state MP Martha Haylett and homelessness policy expert Swinburne University Associate Professor David MacKenzie.

There was also a panel discussion featuring Uniting Vic.Tas Homelessness Advocacy Reference Committee with all the members having lived experience of homelessness in the Ballarat and Central Highlands region.

Markus Middling told the forum about the sense of desperation he felt as he tried to escape homelessness.

A member of the Pride in Place network which supports LGBTQIA+ people with housing and homelessness issues, told of washing his clothes in Lake Wendouree.

“(Being homeless) is like you’re sitting in a dark room, and you know where the light switch is, but you can’t get up to switch it on,” he explained.

“You need somebody to sit with you in the dark to give you the confidence to get up and switch that light on.”

Associate Professor MacKenzie, who has studied housing and homelessness policy including across the US and Europe, said there needed to be a change of approach to homelessness in Australia.

“There needs to be a rapid response to rehousing people (experiencing homelessness) and right now we’re not doing that well enough,” Professor MacKenzie said.

“As much as possible we need to be able to reconnect people with their families and with their own communities. Rather than just responding to crisis, we need to do as much as we can to prevent people becoming homeless.”

Leading into Homelessness Week, Uniting Vic.Tas Senior Manager Homelessness Adam Liversage said more people across Ballarat and the Central Highlands – from all walks of life – were now struggling to find a home, at risk of losing their home, or without a home.

“There are more people doing it tough, not knowing where they will shelter from one day to another or where they will get their next meal,” Mr Liversage said.

“Homelessness is not inevitable. With enough social and affordable homes and the right support, everyone in the community can be permanently housed.”

Homelessness Week continues until Sunday with Uniting Vic.Tas part of the Experiencing Homelessness Art Show and Exhibition at Trades Hall, 24 Camp Street, Ballarat, which showcases stories and artwork of people with lived experience of homelessness.

Learn more about our Housing and Homelessness Services.

Linda and Craig’s inspiring journey as foster carers

Linda* and her husband, Craig* became foster carers as they strongly believe that every child deserves the opportunity to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.

Prior to this, they had already raised eight children, three of whom were their biological children; and are now also proud grandparents.

Currently, Linda and Craig are caring for three siblings, aged ten, eight, and six, as well as a young boy who is nine years old.

The children come from different backgrounds and have had varying experiences, but Linda and Craig treat them all equally and provide them with the stability and support they need while they are unable to live with their parents.

“Foster care is just like having your own children, you’re giving kids what they need in life,” says Linda.

For Linda and Craig, looking after children has become a natural extension of their desire to help others in the community.

Now, several years on, neither of them can envision living their lives any differently.

When asked if she’d had any challenges so far, Linda chuckled, “No I haven’t, I totally enjoy it. I like kids and like to see their happy smiles.”

Playing a vital role.

Foster carers, like Linda and Craig, play a vital role in the lives of these children.

They provide them with a calm home environment, offer emotional support, and help to meet their physical and educational needs.

They also work closely with their Uniting caseworker and other professionals to ensure that the children are receiving enough support and their needs are getting met.

Right now, there is a growing need for more foster carers, particularly those who are willing to care for children with complex needs or disabilities.

Uniting welcomes foster carers from diverse backgrounds to provide a safe and nurturing home for vulnerable children and young people. Whether you can provide emergency accommodation, respite care, or ongoing support, we offer a range of opportunities to suit your preferences.

Register your interest with us today and our team will guide you through the application process.

Unity through solidarity – Twenty years of welcoming asylum seekers.

Since August 2002, Uniting’s Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre (ASWC) in Brunswick, despite divisive social and political climates, has stood firm as a place of refuge, unity and humility.

While waiting for decisions on their applications to be recognised as refugees, many asylum seekers are isolated in the community with very little or no form of assistance and with few rights or entitlements. With the support and collaboration of congregations like: Coburg, Warrandyte, Camberwell, and Brunswick we have come together in Unity with the ASWC to help ensure asylum seekers feel safe, welcome and part of the community.

Uniting’s Asylum Seeker Program Team Leader, Aimee says the centre supports people at all stage of their settlement journey.

“The centre provides a dual service in responding to people’s basic needs and empowering people to learn how to navigate the Australian context,” she said.

“It is important to understand where people are at in their settlement journey.”

From English programs to digital literacy or piano lessons to employment workshops, the ASWC offers a myriad of programs to better prepare asylum seekers for life in Australia.

And beyond practical support, the centre also provides emotional support. The migrant experience is known to be a complex one.

“It might be sitting with someone while they cry for 10 minutes or smiling at someone and you’re the only person they have talked to that day. Being reminded of that role that we have in people’s lives and that the connection is meaningful for them,” Aimee said.

Aimee expressed her gratitude to congregations for their long-standing support of the program, “congregations have always been behind the work we do. Their commitment to advocating for justice and supporting those seeking asylum is truly inspiring.”

Jun’s new life in Australia.

Jun is a carer to his wife and son. He was referred to the Uniting Carer Employment Support Program (CESP) in 2022.

Prior to migrating to Australia, Jun worked for 20 years in the massage industry. Sadly, his qualifications were not recognised here, so he made the decision to begin the journey of re-training.

In his initial appointment, we discussed his goal of returning to the industry and created a pathway to support him in doing this. Prior to commencing with CESP Jun completed a Certificate IV in Allied Health Assistance and a Diploma of Remedial Massage however, to work in his ideal role as a Myotherapist, he required further study.

With the support of the CESP Program, Jun commenced study in an Advanced Diploma with the Melbourne Insititute of Massage.

To ensure that his education experience was positive, the Uniting CESP program provided ongoing wellbeing support to help him balance his study with his caring responsibilities. The program also sourced an $800 funding grant to help remove the financial pressure of study for him and his family.

In August, Jun began working at a local massage clinic. He says that he is very happy with his role and is glad to have returned to an industry that he is passionate about.

Jun has plans to open his own business following his graduation and says that he is excited to be making connections in his new role that will support him to do this.

Moving forward, we will continue to support Jun as he prepares to complete his studies and create a business providing Myotherapy services.

Jun’s success is a testament to his hard work and diligence, and we feel very lucky that through the Carer Employment Initiative, we have been able to support him in achieving his goals.

Learn more about our Carer Services.

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes Victoria’s decision to raising the age.

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the leadership displayed by the Victorian Government in its commitment to raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, and to age 14 by 2027.

Uniting fully supports this reform and looks forward to working with the Victorian Government to ensure that all children and young people have access to the care and supports required for them to develop well and reach their full potential.

The evidence has been clear for a long time – children do not belong in prison. When children get caught up in the criminal justice system, they are subjected to further trauma, stigma and harm. Children deserve to be supported by our community, not shut out of it.

We are troubled by the four-year delay in raising the age to 14 and call upon the Victorian Government to work closely with children and young people, ACCO’s, community services organisations, legal services and peak bodies to meet international standards by raising the age to 14 with immediate priority.

We have a responsibility to all children to do the work required for them to exit the justice system and thrive. When the Standing Council of Attorney Generals meet this Friday 28 April, we urge them to raise the age with no carve-outs. Uniting look forward to bi-partisan leadership from all members of Parliament towards meaningful reform.

With the rising cost of living, people are facing new hardships every day

More and more people are finding themselves in poverty.

Watch the video of Nancy’s story. 

That means more people struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table.

And the rising cost of living means people already in challenging situations are likely to face further hardship.

We know this pressure is also a factor in an alarming increase in family violence.

Sadly, one in four women experience family violence. And rising costs not only add to family pressures but make it harder for those experiencing violence to leave the family home.

Rebecca works at Uniting’s Marrageil Baggarrook program. It offers women escaping family violence a safe haven while they set about securing a long-term home.

“The rising cost of living at the moment is really affecting my clients,” said Rebecca.

“I’m noticing more and more women asking for food vouchers. And a lot of women find that difficult to do.

“When they come to us, they’re very scared and frightened, they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Alone and afraid

Nancy* recently experienced this first-hand.

Hailing from Iran in search of a better life, her journey in Australia had so far been difficult.

In her mid-30s, Nancy had bravely escaped a violent relationship. Hailing from Iran, she now found
herself alone with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

“It was a hard time. I didn’t know where to go,” said Nancy.

Fortuitously, Nancy crossed paths with Uniting and she was immediately offered crisis accommodation.

From there, she moved to Uniting’s Marrageil Baggarrook program where she received long-term housing assistance, mental health support and, importantly, a sense of community and safety.

“I had tears,” said Nancy when she first saw her new home, “happy tears.”

“Uniting were the good people in my life. They helped me a lot.

“I’m not the same person now, not that sad or depressed person.”

Equally, Rebecca is thankful she could support Nancy.

“Meeting Nancy and watching her grow has been such an honour,” she said.

“It was a pretty terrible situation she was in. It makes me feel so happy I’ve contributed a little to her journey.”

Nancy’s story is only one of a multitude told to our Uniting services every day.

Everyone is different and so are their circumstances

Uniting understands that crisis affects different people in different ways. That’s why we offer a depth and breadth of services right around Victoria and Tasmania to help people in their time of need.

Together we can support people in crisis find a safe place to live, put food on their table, connect
with mental health support and feel hopeful for the future.

Help us to help others.

Together we can get through this crisis.

Donate now.

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

Nader’s story: Fathering two teenage sons

Nader* arrived in Australia in March 2022 with his family and two twin sons, aged 17.

Nader participated in the Parenting in a New Culture – Focus on Fathers (PINC-FF) program in November 2022.

PINC-FF is a parenting education and support program for parents from newly arrived culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, with a focus on fathers.

Nader was very interested in the program and wanted to develop a stronger relationship with his teenage boys and family since arriving in a new country.

“My role as a father has changed dramatically since arriving in Australia despite being here less than one year,” he said.

Nader mentioned that everything is entirely new and adjusting to life in a new country can be challenging.

“As a father and principal of the family, I’m grateful for being with my family in a safe country. However, I also want to have a positive relationship with my kids and maintain my role as their father,” he said.

Nader disclosed to the group that the main challenge he faced as a father was good communication and misunderstandings with his teenage sons, which caused a prominent disruption in the family.

PINC-FF sessions discussed topics such as children’s brain development and parenting teenagers.

“This program helped me to deal with my children positively, have better communication skills, and spend more time listening to their opinions and perspectives,” he shared with the group.

“The program gave me confidence and affirms that I’m doing good as a father, despite the challenges we’re experiencing.”

Nader stated that he now has a better understanding of his teenage children’s behaviour.

“I recommend everyone in our community to participate in the program. It certainly guided me and clarified many unknown matters when dealing with children in a new society,” said Nader.

“I have learned many new skills to deal with my children when they need my support at different stages of their physical and psychological development.”

Uniting Vic.Tas through its Communities for Children Hume Program has been collaborating with Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre to run the PINC-FF program since 2016, with support funding from the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

To find out more about Communities for Children Hume, visit: Communities for Children Hume.

*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 people featured in this story.

Carers: unpaid, unsung and often unseen

Josephine* and Steve* will be the first to tell you that life as a full-time carer is hard work.

When they made the decision to grow their family back in 2000, neither could anticipate how drastically their lives as they knew it would change.

“Everyone has a plan for life when they get married but in reality, life doesn’t always go to plan,”
says Josephine.

The pair’s two sons, now 22 and 19, both live with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD).

Living with an array of conditions means the family’s lives are governed by routine.

“It can be pretty full on, mentally and physically exhausting,” says Steve.

“Structure is so important.”

While Josephine and Steve have had years to build a routine and learn how to centre their lives around their sons’ needs, they have encountered many challenges along the way.

Josephine reflects, “Life is much easier now because we have paid off our mortgage and we have some money for our bills but when the boys were younger, we had our mortgage and our bills and no financial support. Life was really hard then.”

As the years grow in numbers, Josephine and Steve share fears about caring for their sons into the future.

“As we are getting older, it’s harder to keep on going like this. I’m 63 but some days I feel like I’m 83. It gets difficult,” shares Steve.

“Even though 22 and 19 sounds old, I moved out at 20 when I was younger, our sons can’t do that and a lot of people living with a disability just can’t do it.”

“Our youngest is very proud of himself because if we go out, he can prepare his own evening meal. Now, his own evening meal is two noodle cups. He couldn’t live the rest of his life on noodles.

“That’s our worry, that if we aren’t here, what’s going to happen?”

Seven years ago, after identifying a lack of support for carers in their local community, Josephine and Steve started their own support group for carers.

The couple’s carers group is completely volunteer run and comprises over 50 unpaid carers of children and young adults living with disabilities and mental illness.

The group supports carers’ wellbeing through fun and positive activities, as well as focusing on helping their children reach their full potential and become as independent as possible.

“I wanted to do more for carers,” says Josephine.

Steve explains that himself and Josephine have not been able to rely on their families for support with the children. The pair have had to do it all on their own.

“Most of the people in our group are from overseas, so their families are overseas. There’s no one to help them out, so we help each other out. We tend to look at each other like family. That’s the value we get out of the group. We’re like an extended family,” says Steve.

Today, Steve and Josephine work on being kinder to themselves.

“When you’re a parent of children with disabilities you tend to judge yourself harshly,” explains Josephine.

“You set the bar too high and expect yourself to overcome every little issue and think of every little thing that could go wrong.”

“People who have children with disabilities can tend to close up and keep to themselves,” adds Steve.

“Try and get out there and find help. Talk to people, don’t be afraid to ask for help because help is out there.”

Josephine and Steve got in contact with Uniting’s Carer Gateway team to seek additional support.

If you’re looking to improve your wellbeing and quality of life as a young carer or unpaid carer, Carer Gateway is here to support you.

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

Superheroes step up

The April 2023 Murray to Moyne is almost upon us.

And Team Life Cycle is ready for the starting line, vital support crew at their sides.

“We call them Batman and Robin,” said Team Life Cycle’s captain, Chris ‘Captain America’ Moorcroft.

“Without their incredible efforts there’s no way we could do the event.”

The classic Murray to Moyne Cycle Relay runs on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 April.

The team will cycle 520 kilometres altogether, all the way from Echuca to Port Fairy.

Team Life Cycle has three groups of three riders.

Each group rides six one-hour legs in relay fashion over the first day before coming together to ride the last 90 kilometres to the finish line in Port Fairy on the Sunday as one team.

The support crew of ‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’ are split across two vehicles. One drives the lead vehicle in front of the riders and the other drives the bus behind.

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make the team event-ready and fully prepared with as much planning as possible to take the worry out of the unexpected.

“Batman, or Chris Manson in real life, is the logistical guru,” explains Chris Moorcroft.

“He even designed and built our specially-made bike trailer.

“And equally important for us riders is Chris’s ride plan. He has carefully plotted every changeover point and rest stop and he co-ordinates all of us between the two support vehicles.

“He keeps a close eye on each team and their average speed, so we stay on track through the Saturday legs and keep up with our planned eta.

“Then Robin, or Adrian Dalzotto in real life, is our newest support crew member and we’re thrilled to have him on board.

“His mission is to pilot the lead vehicle carrying the next rotation of riders for each team to their changeover point and make absolutely sure they are ready to go, bike and rider.”

The Dynamic Duo also keep a close eye on all the riders’ safety while navigating the day and night driving.

They assist and are prepared for no less than 18 team relay changeovers over the course of the Saturday so they must always have their wits about them.

Hats Off to the Dynamic Duo, they’re real superheroes and the riders of Team Lifecycle simply couldn’t do it without you!

Follow Team Life Cycle’s progress or make a donation.

Simple tips to keep a lid on soaring energy bills.

While energy prices are on the rise again, there are some simple things around the home you can start doing today to help keep your energy bills down.

If you’re struggling financially and worried about how you’ll pay your gas or electricity bills, you may also be eligible for support from Uniting Vic.Tas.

Uniting Vic.Tas provides specialised advice and support to Victorians who need assistance with their energy bills.

Our team 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 Support Program said falling behind on energy bills continues to be one of the most common sources of financial stress raised with financial counsellors.

Under the Victorian Government’s Payment Difficulty Framework, energy companies must assist any household that engages with them, preventing them from being disconnected.

“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.

“With the rising cost of living, we know there are many people who are really struggling to keep up with their bills.

“If you’re struggling with your energy bills, get in touch with us now – don’t wait until it’s too late.

“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 can help give you some peace of mind.”

Assistance is available over-the-phone, and we have interpreter support available in your language – start by calling 1800 830 029 or visit the Uniting Vic.Tas website.

Energy saving tips around the home:

Living areas:

  • Keeping heating and cooling temperatures at the right settings – heating at 20 degrees, cooling at 24 degrees
  • Close off areas where you are heating or cooling by shutting doors and closing curtains or blinds
  • Seal draughts around doors using door snakes or a rolled-up towel and installing weather stripping
  • Use an electric throw rug in winter or a portable fan in summer

Bathroom

  • Keep showers to around four minutes and make sure you have a water saving showerhead

Laundry

  • Use cold water in your washing machine
  • Hang clothes out on a washing line or a clothes horse instead of using a clothes dryer

Bills

  • Checking your bills and asking your provider for their best deal or go to the Victorian Energy Compare website and look for a better deal.
  • Make sure you register for the Victorian Government’s $250 Power Saving Bonus from March 24.

Uniting’s advocacy in support of legislation to ban sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts in Tasmania.

Last week, in partnership with the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, we wrote to all members of the Tasmanian Parliament to express our strong support for the introduction and passing of legislation to protect people from the harm of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts.

At Uniting, we firmly believe people should have the freedom to determine their own sexuality and identity, and every person, whatever their sexuality, sex, or gender identity, deserves to be treated with fairness and respect. As both a faithbased organisation and a provider of critical mental health services in regional and rural Tasmania, we have a particular duty to speak in support of our LGBTIQ+ consumers and the broader community to advocate the Tasmanian Government support of future legislation to protect those affected from harm.

Acting boldly, respectfully, and compassionately to confront injustice underpins Uniting values and practices. We called on each member to not just support the introduction and passing of such
legislation, but to act with empathy when engaging formally, publicly, or privately on this matter. Acknowledging debate is an inevitable and integral part of change, we encouraged them to reflect on their personal contribution and role in this process to ensure we prevent further harm to all those who are affected.

We were delighted that our letter and message were amplified during the first sitting day of the Tasmanian Parliament on 28 February, as it was read in full during a statement made by Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Cassy O’Connor. We have since received reaffirmed support on this issue from the Tasmanian Labor party, with Rebecca White MP, leader of the Opposition responding:

We appreciate the Uniting Church’s advocacy on this issue and the role of the Church in supporting LGTBQIA+ people. Labor will always support measures to make LGBTQIA+ people more welcome in Tasmania, and which emphasise the importance of best practice healthcare. It is vital that LGBTQIA+ Tasmanians are not subjected to unsafe and misinformed conversion practices and can live their lives free from interference and misinformation.”

Despite commitment from the Tasmanian Premier in June 2022 that legislation would be introduced to implement the recommendations outlined in the report completed by the Tasmania Law Reform Institute, no such draft legislation has been produced and no further announcements have been made. Uniting understands that additional policy analysis and community consultation is to be undertaken, with the Government awaiting advice resulting from such analysis before progressing any approach to reform.

Uniting Vic.Tas looks forward to the completion of this review and welcomes the opportunity to engage as part of the consultation process.

Palm Sunday Walk for Justice & Freedom for Refugees – Shared statement

The Uniting Church of 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 of Victoria and Tasmania and Uniting Vic.Tas, its community services organisation, provide care and support to people seeking asylum; 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 newly-arrived people and systemic advocacy 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. Whilst we welcome the Australian Government’s recent granting of permanent settlement to refugees on Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas who arrived prior to 2014, we firmly believe that ALL refugees deserve permanent visas and access to family reunion.   

This Palm Sunday (2 April 2023), we re-affirm our commitment to people who have been forced to flee war, violence and persecution. We recognise their courage, resilience and inner-strength. 

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 2.30 pm at the State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne.  

 

Uniting supports decision to make Medically Supervised Injecting Room permanent.

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the State Government’s commitment to make the North Richmond Medically Supervised Injecting Room (MSIR) a permanent fixture of Victoria’s response to reducing drug-related harm.  

The recently released final report into the Review of the Medically Supervised Injecting Room has found that since its establishment in 2018, the MSIR has succeeded in achieving the trial’s key objective: saving lives. Data from the independent review shows there have been almost 6,000 overdose events in the MSIR during the trial period and none have been fatal.  

Modelling cited in the review suggests that during its time in operation, the North Richmond MSIR has prevented up to 63 deaths, which equates to around 16 lives per year.  

CEO Bronwyn Pike said the organisation supported a harm minimisation approach to drug use.

“Overdose deaths are preventable – every person lost to an overdose is a tragedy,” Ms Pike said. 

“While we congratulate the Victorian Government on its ongoing commitment to the North Richmond MSIR, we still have work to do.” 

Recent data shows heroin-related incidents in the Melbourne CBD increased in 2021-22, surpassing the City of Yarra for the first time.  

“We are devastated by the number of lives that continue to be lost from drug overdoses in Melbourne and across our state,” Ms Pike said.  

“Many of the people we work with every day in our alcohol and other drug programs at Uniting Vic.Tas face complex life circumstances with multiple health and social needs. We need a range of health-based responses to support people and medically supervised injecting rooms are an intervention that save lives.”  

This week Uniting joined our sector colleagues in writing a joint letter to the Victorian Government to support a trial of a supervised injecting service in the City of Melbourne.   

If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol or drug related harm, Directline offers a statewide 24/7 telephone counselling and referral service on 1800 888 236.  

Learn more about our Alchohol & Other Drug Services.

Funding cut means more homeless will face winter on the streets.

Uniting Vic.Tas is urging the Federal Government to maintain critical funding for homelessness services already struggling to keep up with record demand and a housing crisis.

The Victorian Government has written to the state’s homelessness services warning that the Federal Government has decided not to renew its funding as part of the Equal Remuneration Order beyond June 30 this year.

The Equal Remuneration Order was introduced in 2012 to cover social and community workers recognising the sector’s predominantly female workforce had been historically lower paid because of their gender. The dedicated workforce in the sector deserves fair pay and without proper support from government to back this up, services will be left with a shortfall.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike said if the ERO funding for homelessness support services was not maintained, the organisation would lose $1.254 million in 20232024 financial year.

It’s extremely distressing that we’re already having to turn people away from our homelessness services because the demand is at record levels,” Ms Pike said.

“Without this funding, it will mean a longer wait for help or we’ll have to turn even more people away and that’s the last thing we want to do.

Our homelessness and housing support services are already at breaking point we don’t want to see more people having to sleep on the streets or in their cars.

“This funding cut will impact not just housing and homelessness support, it will have a significant knockon effect on all our crisis services.

“Last year, with Swinburne University we released a report which laid bare the devasting impact of the rising cost of living on people on low incomes. A growing number of people can barely afford to keep a roof over their heads let alone pay their bills or put food on the table.

In the middle of a housing crisis, the last thing the housing and homelessness support sector needs is a funding cut it will be devastating.”

Learn more about our Homelessness and Housing Services.

Twenty years of welcoming asylum seekers.

In August 2002, the Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre (ASWC) first opened its doors wide to welcome and support people seeking asylum in Australia. The Welcome Centre was born in the wake of the 2001/2002 Tampa affair, when fears existed in the community that large numbers of asylum seekers were arriving unchecked in Australia.

A group of agencies and workers knew something had to be done. There was a clear need to establish a community centre to offer support and safety to Melbourne’s growing asylum seeker population.

Now, 20 years on, despite a divisive social and political climate, the ASWC has stood firm as a place of refuge, welcome and humility.

While waiting for decisions on their applications to be recognised as refugees, many asylum seekers are isolated in the community with very little or no form of assistance and with few rights or entitlements.

Uniting’s Asylum Seeker Program Team Leader, Aimee says the centre supports people at all stages of their settlement journey.

“The centre provides a dual service in responding to people’s basic needs and empowering people to learn how to navigate the Australian context,” she said.

“It is important to understand where people are at in their settlement journey.

“If they’re new to the country then they might have quite early-stage settlement needs, like more day-to-day things.

“People who have been here longer, might have a lot of their early settlement needs already met but need social connection and mental health support. People’s mental health is quite compromised when they’ve been seeking asylum for a long time.”

ASWC Community Development Worker, Art, explains that just like the diversity of clients who visit the centre, its programs are equally as varied.

“It’s hard to pin down what we actually do because we do a lot of things. We run a lot of programs to enhance community participation. They are aimed at building people’s capacity with the hopes that one day they don’t need us anymore and they will become independent,” says Art.

From English programs to digital literacy or piano lessons to employment workshops, the ASWC offers a myriad of programs to better prepare asylum seekers for life in Australia.

And beyond practical support, the team also stressed the importance of emotional support. The migrant experience is known to be a complex one.

Art continues, “today I had a client after our English class, she shared with me that she felt very overwhelmed and has for a long time about things happening in her home country back in Iran.

“Just being a friend to people. Sometimes they don’t have anyone.”

On 6 December 2022, the ASWC held a 20th year anniversary celebration at the Brunswick Uniting Church Hall. Aimee said the event brought together clients, staff and volunteers, past and present, to share great stories, food, music and dancing from all around the world.

“We are often the first place people want to tell when something good happens in their lives. I always say this to the team, don’t ever take our role for granted,” shared Aimee.

“It might be sitting with someone while they cry for 10 minutes or smiling at someone and you’re the only person they have talked to that day. Being reminded of that role that we have in people’s lives and that the connection is meaningful for them.”

Leave no one behind

The Uniting Asylum Seeker Program is not government funded and relies on the compassionate generosity of supporters. Learn how you can support those seeking a better life in our country.

An update from Jeremey

At 49 years of age, Jeremey found himself homeless and spent 18 months living rough in the bush near Ballarat.

Empowered by Uniting’s support, Jeremey has transformed his own life experience into an opportunity to advocate for and support others. He now works as the first Homelessness Peer Support Worker in Uniting’s Street 2 Home program.

Street 2 Home’s Team Leader, Stacey, says, “Jeremey was the missing piece of our Street 2 Home team, and we are so grateful for the work he does with us, for our consumers.”

Jeremey’s role is to assist clients to integrate back into the community and help break down barriers they may face when accessing services.

When asked about his new role, Jeremey shared, “I have the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had in my life.”

On top of this, Jeremey is also a facilitator in the Homelessness Advocacy and Reference Committee (HARC). This reference committee is operated by 10 current and previous clients of the Street 2 Home Program.

By listening to the voices of people who have experienced homelessness and rough sleeping, the committee come up with new ways to both address the housing crisis and help advice service providers.

Jeremey says, “I feel that HARC has provided a space for this group to have a real voice on issues big and small. I also feel that it is an extraordinary opportunity to give a real sense of purpose to all our members. The contribution and enthusiasm is amazing.”

Hearing stories like Jeremey’s provides an insight into the reality of homelessness, spreads awareness of the inequalities people face, empowers communities to step up and help and can bring hope to those in a similar position, knowing someone understands and they are not alone.

Read Jeremey’s story

Jeremey and Stacey thank you

Thank you for your overwhelming support last Christmas.

Your donations have pulled many out of crisis, provided them with food relief, a place to call home, mental health support, a sense of community, and most importantly, hope.

Street 2 Home’s Team Leader, Stacey, says, “People come into this service often in despair, not knowing who to reach out to for help or assistance. But having your donations provides security, they provide warmth and shows people that the community cares and that you’re behind them.”

Jeremey also wanted to share his thanks, “The generosity I’ve received, I’m just so grateful for.

“I was taken from the bush, I was put into a home.

“Just know there are some very grateful people out there.”

Can’t afford to live

Soaring rental and fuel prices alongside rocketing grocery receipts are trapping low-income families in a state of financial distress and pushing many deeper into poverty.

Research conducted by Uniting Vic.Tas and Swinburne University’s Centre for Social Impact, lays bare the devastating effects of the rising cost of living on vulnerable low-income earners across both Victoria and Tasmania.

The ‘Can’t afford to live’ report provides evidence that these rising costs are deepening financial, housing and food insecurity, increasing social isolation and impacting people’s mental and physical health.

The report surveyed 112 people, including those on income support, those working full-time, parents, carers and retirees.

A parent summed up their despair at the rising cost of living, “[The most significant impact is on] my mental health, I feel like a failure as a parent because I can’t afford to care for my children.”

Another parent shared, “We no longer can really afford extras. My children are having to continue missing out on things, simply because I have to buy food.”

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike said many families are being forced to make impossible choices between everyday essentials.

“People can only live a safe and dignified life if they can afford life’s essentials and can live free from constant worry about how they will keep a roof over their heads and food on their table,” Ms Pike said.

Since the report was published, Uniting CEO, Bronwyn Pike and Manager of Advocacy and Public Policy, Thomas Johnson, appeared before the Senate Community Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia where they provided further evidence of the daily impacts of poverty and inequality on the people Uniting works alongside. Uniting has also provided a written submission to the Inquiry.

Read the full report

The Can’t afford to live report found:
  • 92% of respondents were cutting back on food and groceries due to costs
  • One in two respondents experienced mental health impacts resulting from the cost of living increases
  • Parents, carers and people with a disability were skipping meals even if cooking for others
  • More than 1 in 10 reported an increased risk of family violence due to the strain of making ends meet.
Make an immediate impact. Donate today. 

Join in on the fun of fundraising

There are lots of ways you can get involved and support our services here at Uniting.

Food For families

Food For Families is a great way to get together to make a tangible difference to the lives of individuals and families experiencing hardship and crisis throughout the year.

With friends, family or work colleagues, you can get together and supply food or other essential items to ensure people facing crisis can access the basics they need to get through difficult times.

Register today or call us on 1800 668 426.

Shop to support your local community

You can support Uniting by doing your weekly grocery shopping.

If you shop at Richies make sure to join the Community Benefit Program. All you have to do is grab a Ritchies card or download the app and select Uniting. Not only will you receive exclusive membership offers but every month a percentage of what you spend in store will go towards supporting people in crisis.

Be part of Uniting’s Winter local appeal.

Help us keep families warm this winter by providing swags or blankets for people sleeping rough.

We need your help bringing comfort to those who suffer most in the cold weather. We pass the swags and blankets on to people sleeping rough so they can keep warm in the bleak mid-winter.

Get involved

Celebrate with impact

Hosting a birthday, wedding, anniversary or special event? Perhaps consider a celebration gift.

A celebration gift is simple! Ask your friends and guests to make a donation to Uniting instead of buying you a gift.

Get involved

Run for Uniting

This July 16, participate in Run Melbourne alongside over 20,000 passionate runners to support vulnerable individuals, families and communities across Victoria and Tasmania.

Run Melbourne has three distances on offer:

  • 2km
  • 10km
  • 21km

By joining the movement you can raise funds and change lives.

Register today

Education First Youth Foyer partnership

Uniting Vic.Tas is partnering with GOTAFE, NESAY Inc. and the Brotherhood of St Laurence to deliver a newly funded Education First Youth Foyer at Wangaratta.

The foyer combines affordable medium-term accommodation with education and training. This helps young people aged 16 to 24 years who are at risk of homelessness to complete their studies and get jobs.

State Labor Member for Northern Victoria, Jaclyn Symes, announced funding for the foyer in Wangaratta on 15 February 2023. The initiative secured $13.4 million through the Victorian Government’s $50 million Youth Housing Capital Grants program.

The Education First Youth Foyer model is based on the principle that education is key to providing a pathway out of disadvantage for young people. Stable housing is a means of ensuring young people can fully commit to their education.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike, says “This Youth Foyer will make a difference to the lives of so many young people across the Wangaratta region. Providing young people at risk of homelessness with safe and stable long-term accommodation will give them the confidence they need to be able to get on with their education and studies and make a successful transition into work.”

General Manager Housing and Property, Kristie Looney, says it was inspiring to hear from young who attended the event from the Shepparton GOTAFE Education First Youth Foyer.

“They are determined to succeed and with the right support and housing these young people will reach their full potential.”

The project to deliver the foyer includes project management and construction of a three-level building. It combines 40 individual studio apartments with community living spaces.

It will bring 40 jobs to Wangaratta and is expected to deliver $40.6M in net benefits to the Wangaratta community over a 20-year timeframe. The ongoing benefits for participants, the community and the local economy far exceed this.

Visit Education First Youth Foyer at Wangaratta for more information.

Find out more about our Youth Services.

Amazing response to consumer experience survey.

We’ve had a great response to our first consumer experience survey. The results show 83% of our consumers think the quality of our service delivery is either good or very good.

More than a thousand people responded and it’s heartening to hear they felt listened to and respected.

It is important for us to know we are delivering on our promise to consumers. The results and insights will influence our ongoing improvement planning.

The survey results show that 88% of respondents felt treated with dignity and respect, and 86% felt welcomed and accepted and safe to be open and honest.

We recruited consumer partners to help us design the survey to make it clear and easy to complete.

Nina is a consumer involved in the survey design. She says the results were better than expected and they’re worth celebrating.

“The results are great. It’s important employees and volunteers see the value of the services they deliver.

Nina says it’s important that we use the results to look at opportunities to further improve and provide ongoing support for consumers.

Another consumer, Simon says it was rewarding for him to speak to other consumers when he first accessed our services. He considers it vital consumers helped design the survey.

“We could see the questions through a consumer lens. We made recommendations on appropriate and inviting language. That encouraged consumers to take part,” Simon says.

Responses show we are living our values: imaginative, respectful, compassionate, and bold.

Most people received the information they needed when approaching us. The results show they felt that we understood their situation and what they wanted to achieve. We listened and heard what consumers are saying.

Find out more about our services.

CareRing helps Ella face her financial hardship.

Young, single mother, Ella, had to flee her home with her young children due to domestic violence. Packing only what essentials she could fit into small bags, Ella escaped to the safety of her parent’s home.

During the course of their relationship, Ella’s partner financially abused her. He took out personal loans and credit cards in her name. As time went on, Ella was forced to reduce her work hours as her partner’s violence took its toll on the family.

To protect herself and her children, Ella filed a Family Violence Order which was granted for five years. However, the family continued to suffer financially under her partner’s debts which had been taken out in her name. With minimal income from her job, paying off her partner’s debts and saving money to secure safe housing for herself and her children seemed almost impossible.

Luckily Ella’s bank referred her to the CareRing Program for Financial Counselling after noticing her outstanding debts.

Once in contact with CareRing, the team worked to understand Ella’s situation and how they could address her financial challenges. Although the loan and credit cards were in her name. Ella’s partner had made all the purchases, leaving her with nothing.

CareRing’s Financial Counsellor was able to negotiate with the creditors and Ella’s personal loan and credit cards were waived with no adverse reports to her credit file.

Learn more about CareRing.

*This is a typical story based on real scenarios.The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the people featured in this story.

Visa changes opening up a whole new world of dreams and opportunities

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the decision by the Australian Government to allow thousands of refugees currently on Temporary Protection Visas (TPV) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEV) across Australia the opportunity to apply for Resolution of Status (RoS) and become permanent residents in Australia.

On Monday, the Government announced the 19,000 refugees who arrived in Australia before 2013 and were placed on TPVs and SHEVs would be able to apply to permanent Resolution of Status (RoS) in Australia.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the change would give refugees the one thing they had been missing – certainty.

“This is life changing. For too long, refugees staying in Australia on these visas have lived in limbo without knowing what their future held,” Ms Pike said.

“These changes will provide a pathway to not only citizenship but also many other rights and benefits most of us already enjoy and take for granted – such as accessing higher education and being able to travel abroad.”

Uniting Vic.Tas provides a range of services to help new arrivals settle into the community and become self-reliant, including but not limited to support with housing, financial assistance, referrals to legal clinics and specialist employment services, education and health providers, and the opportunity to build social connections.

In Melbourne, we have a Welcome Centre for people seeking asylum to drop-in and socialise or participate in English, computer, or art classes. In Shepparton, our Settlement Hub delivers programs and support to make integration and settlement achievable and encouraging independence.

Sara Noori, Uniting’s Senior Manager of Settlement and Integration, based at the Shepparton Settlement Hub, said the changes will “open up a whole new world of dreams and opportunities.”

“The people we work with – people who have been dealing with daily uncertainty and mental stress of following up with their TPV or SHEV renew applications or the thought that they may have to go back to the life they escaped despite being determined/recognized as refugees now finally have a chance at a brighter future,” Ms Noori said.

“These are people who have been denied so much but will now have the opportunity to do things like apply for home loans to build a house or enrol in a university or TAFE course.

“Just being able to travel overseas and reunite with family and friends will make such a difference because we know how important family connections are to people’s sense of wellbeing.”

Learn more about our multicultural services.

 

Submission to the inquiry into extent and nature of poverty in Australia

This week, Uniting Vic.Tas provided a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia. The depth and breadth of our service experience at Uniting means we see the many structural drivers of poverty that impact on people’s wellbeing, in every program we deliver. We also recognise that systemic racism, sexism, and homophobia mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, women, and people of diverse genders and sexualities experience poverty in differing ways.
Our submission, informed by the experiences of our consumers, argued that Government policies and systems that are supposed to provide a ‘safety net’ are instead keeping people trapped in poverty, and further pushing them to a crisis state. Our recommendations stress that without widespread and fundamental system change, the cycle of intergenerational poverty will continue.
Read our full submission to the Senate.

Acknowledging 20 years of welcoming asylum seekers.

The Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre (ASWC) in Brunswick recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Founded in 2002 by a number of agencies, including the Brunswick Uniting Church and the now Merri-bek Council, the centre welcomes and supports people seeking a safer life in Australia.

While waiting for decisions on their applications to be processed, many people seeking asylum are isolated in the community with very little or no form of assistance, and with few rights or entitlements. The primary aim of the ASWC has been to create the opportunity for people to make decisions about their own lives, with a strong emphasis on mutual support and learning, while providing a safe place of welcome.

Client of the centre, Rehan* says “the ASWC is a place of hope and I see it as my second home. It is a very welcoming place with friendly workers and volunteers.”

Over 150 people gathered to celebrate the milestone, and the overwhelming feeling was one of positivity, enduring community connections, and a melting pot across the community of people involved with the centre – agencies, donors, clients, staff, ex-staff and volunteers.

Entertainment took the form of a jazz band, a children’s entertainer and face painter, photo booth, Ethiopian coffee ceremony, as well as a performance by singer and ASWC volunteer Liz Stringer.

The event was attended not just by current ASWC staff and clients, but also those from throughout the centre’s 20 year history. The universal response was that the event was a resounding success. Warm, generous, welcoming and compassionate. Just like the centre itself.

Learn more about our multicultural services.

*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.

16 Days of Activism – 2022 Walk Against Family Violence

On the 25th of November, Uniting staff and volunteers across Victoria and Tasmania joined together to participate in the 2022 ‘Walk Against Family Violence.’ The walk marked the first day of 16 Days of Activism, an annual international campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence.

Uniting was proud to walk in solidarity with victim-survivors and to honour those who have lost their lives to gender-based violence. As one of our specialist AOD family violence practitioners shared, “It was heartening to see so many people walk in solidarity with survivors of domestic and family violence today. It’s thanks to the relentless work of survivor advocates and grassroots organisations around the world over the past 30 years that we’ve reached a point where people from all walks of life – regardless of culture, age, or gender – are standing together and calling out the violence. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a whole lot of work to do, and lasting change requires a whole community approach!”

Sadly, for many of our consumers, experiences of gender-based violence are a contributing factor in seeking Uniting’s support. Uniting staff witness first-hand the impacts of gender-based violence on the lives of women and children across all our services, not just in family violence. By taking part in the 16 Days of Activism campaign, Uniting affirms its commitment to our consumers and finding real solutions to end gender-based violence.

Learn more about our Family Violence Support Services.

The Victorian Response to Homelessness – Parity September 2022 Edition

In the lead up to the state election, Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) called for contributions exploring the Victorian response to homelessness to feature in their September 2022 edition of Parity magazine. At the heart of this edition is the collective call for access to secure, safe, and affordable housing for vulnerable households, and what needs to be put in place to achieve this.

Uniting Vic.Tas contributed three articles to this edition, the first written by Senior Manager Homelessness, Ballarat, Barwon and Western Division, Adam Liversage. ‘Homelessness in Regional Victoria’ reflects on the success of Homelessness Week as a key vehicle for awareness raising across the Ballarat region, and the opportunity for real and expansive change if funding is continued for initiatives put in place during the pandemic, such as the Homelessness 2 Home (H2H) program.

Adam’s piece shines a light on the experiences of Uniting’s frontline staff who are working with increasing demand at our homelessness entry points, and the urgent need for increased and ongoing funding to adequately support regional communities:

“In Ballarat alone, if the Entry Point were to see all of the unmet demand, those who presented and couldn’t be seen, we would have projected to have seen 2,500 people this financial year. We only have funding for just over 1,200 per year! So
far this year the Ballarat entry point has turned away over 600 people seeking our service…”

You can read Adam’s full article here.

Research recently undertaken by The Centre for Social Impact (CSI), Swinburne University of Technology, in partnership with Uniting practitioners, sought to identify outcomes for people engaged with the Homelessness to a Home (H2H) program. H2H recipients were asked about the contribution of the service to outcomes and changes in life areas, the
findings of which are presented in our second article in this edition ‘The Homelessness to a Home Program Outcomes in Rural Victoria’, authored by Professor Erin Wilson and team.

The H2H program is based on the principles of Housing First programs. The findings of this research contribute to the growing body of evidence that Housing First is highly effective in providing housing stability for people with a history of longterm homelessness and complex needs. Many of the people surveyed spoke about how secure housing can be
transformative and provide stability in other areas of life:

Since I moved into this unit, that gave me the stable housing I was looking for. Everything else is much easier now I have stable housing.

“Feeling I have a support network is monumental for someone used to living in limbo. Having the security of knowing where you’re going to be next week, next month, etc. Home security is everything.”

You can read more about the findings of this research in the full article, here.

The final article contributed by Uniting Vic.Tas is an opinion piece written by Manager of Advocacy & Public Policy, Tom Johnson. Tom’s article applies a broad policy lens to these issues, exploring the scale of homelessness in Victoria, and the necessity for longterm, evidencebased policy and funding frameworks to enable substantive change. The article
outlines how Uniting continues to advocate for the expansion and establishment of longterm strategies and practices that support crisis intervention, recognising though that this can only achieve so much. Alongside this, Uniting continues to call on the Victorian Government to formally respond to the state parliamentary inquiry into homelessness, delivered in March 2021.

You can read more of Tom’s article on homelessness in Victoria here.

Early learning educators celebrated at the Victorian Early Years Awards.

Congratulations to our Early Learning educators who were finalists in this year’s Victorian Early Years Awards.

Julie Fitt, Director of St. Columbas Uniting Kindergarten in Sale, was a finalist in the Early Childhood Teacher of the Year Award category. Her nomination recognises Julie’s philosophy of teaching children to have respect for themselves, others, and the environment, coupled with her commitment to her staff’s ongoing professional development. View Julie’s nomination.

The team at Buninyong Uniting Kindergarten were finalists in the Continuity of Early Learning Award category. In partnership with Buninyong Primary School, they were recognised for initiating a collaborative action research project which continues to shape positive outcomes for children transitioning to school from kindergarten. View the Buninyong team’s nomination.

While they didn’t take home an award, it was an absolute honour to see our early learning educators be amongst those celebrated and acknowledged for their achievements and dedication.

The Victorian Early Years Awards were held on Wednesday, 9 November and attended by Minister for Early Childhood and Pre-Prep Ms Ingrid Stitt MLC.

View the full list of the 2022 Victorian Early Years Awards winners and nominees.

Once in a generation leadership needed to tackle Victoria’s housing and homelessness problem.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike today called on the major political parties in the upcoming Victorian Election to commit to an intergenerational stepchange in funding social housing and homelessness services.

Ms Pike made the call as Uniting launched its Victorian election brief on housing and homelessness.

The brief calls on the incoming government to address homelessness and deliver more social housing across Victoria.

Victoria is in the midst of a housing crisis, driven by longterm underinvestment in social housing and exacerbated by the rising cost of living and increasing poverty. Homelessness services, like those provided by Uniting and other community housing organisations are now stretched beyond sustainable limits, she said.

“Victoria is at a fork in the road we must act now or our homelessness and social housing emergency will deepen.

Ms Pike said an incoming government must commit to serious and sustained social housing construction and a response to homelessness founded on Housing First principles, like the Homeless to a Home (H2H) program.

Victoria‘s proportion of social housing is 30 per cent less than the national average of 4.2 per cent,” she said.

Victoria has historically underspent on social and affordable housing. While programs such as the Big Housing Build are significant, it is a oneoff program that won’t seriously turn around the homelessness crisis on its own.

We need 60,000 new public and community homes by 2031, which demands an ongoing commitment.

With evidence consistently showing homelessness disproportionately affects women, Indigenous Victorians, youth, and those suffering mental health problems, we want all sides of politics to commit to evidencebased homelessness programs.

Uniting has also continued to call on the Victorian Government to respond to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness, which delivered its report in March last year. This report delivered 37 recommendations all of which the government has yet to respond.

Read our full brief here.

Budget a ‘positive start’ but more needed to address immediate cost-of-living pressures.

One of Victoria and Tasmania’s largest not-for-profit community services providers, Uniting Vic.Tas today welcomed the key social reforms in the 2022-23 Federal Budget, but warned more support was required to address immediate cost-of-living challenges.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the ambitious social housing program to deliver one million new dwellings over five years, cheaper childcare, expanded paid parental leave and boosting family violence support were among the highlights.

Uniting Vic.Tas has previously committed $20 million towards social housing, including a plan to build 500 new homes across Victoria and Tasmania.

“We’re really pleased the Government has prioritised social housing in its first Budget,” Ms Pike said.

“Homelessness and housing affordability is a national crisis which has been ignored for too long, so a program like this is long overdue.

“However, the crisis is happening now, and we’re concerned that relief for people is still several years away – more action needs to be taken now. Every day we turn away people from our homelessness services because there’s no accommodation available.”

“We welcome the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children and the additional funding for the Escaping Violence Program, which we deliver across the country. This program is already helping thousands of women live safer lives.

“There was some cost relief around medicines and the price of prescriptions, however, it’s disappointing there wasn’t more relief for people struggling with the cost-of-living.

“We recently released a report on the impact of the cost-of-living on Victorians and Tasmanians on low incomes which showed 92 per cent of people cutting back on food, and many struggling to even keep the lights on.

“We would have liked to have seen more of an increase in funding for emergency relief and some targeted assistance to help people with their energy bills.

“We’ve also consistently called for an increase to income support rates – too many people are still living in poverty.”

Ms Pike said the childcare assistance package would help more women return to the workforce.

“In our report we heard from young mothers who were struggling to balance the costs of childcare with feeding their families and paying bills – so it will make a difference,” Ms Pike said.

“The boost in free TAFE places will also help more vulnerable people get back to work. However, we would have liked to see the Government increase the time people can work without it impacting their income support.”

Learn more about Uniting Vic.Tas.

Affordable, safe, and secure housing is an essential human right.

“I’m living in a van with a queen-sized mattress and a tiny tv, with three kids, my niece, my children’s father and myself.

I want them (the Tasmanian Government) to know that my four-year-old son asks, mum where are we staying tonight? Every night that’s what he asks me. And every night I’ve got to say, the van buddy. And he says no mummy I want to stay in a hotel, I don’t want to stay there.

It’s so hard to hear my four-year-old son say where are we staying, and that he wants to stay in a hotel not a van. I’ve never lived this way, and I’ve never pictured myself living this way. And it is disgusting. Its gross. The only thing I’m trying to do is protect my three children.”

– Sarah*

This week, Uniting Vic.Tas provided a submission to the consultation for the Tasmanian Housing Strategy. In putting this submission together, we had the privilege of hearing directly from Tasmanian consumers about their experiences with housing and homelessness, what access to safe, secure, and affordable housing would mean for themselves and their families, and what they would like to see changed.

For Rachel*,  access to safe, secure, and affordable housing would mean:
“I wouldn’t have to ask my mum for food, or for her to cook meals for us to have in the freezer. We (my son and I) would be able to build memories and have fun, not every day but at least occasionally. Bake a cake for someone’s birthday and not have to ask for help all the time.

We could do more things; we could eat better. Not have to make the choice between working all the time to be able to send him to day-care, which means for him he can socialise and get the educational benefits, but then I never get to see him. So, I stay home now to look after him which is cheaper, and we get to bond, but he misses out on everything that goes with day-care.

It would mean I would be able to buy him (my son) something new for the first time, not second hand. He has never had a toy that came in the box, brand new. He doesn’t understand that
now, but he will soon, and I just hope things are different by then.”

– Rachel*

Affordable, safe, and secure housing is an essential human right that underpins a person’s capacity to live a dignified, healthy, and meaningful life within their community. Notwithstanding the current cost of living pressures across Australia, we are a wealthy nation, and have the resources to ensure that everyone can be part of a safe and supportive community, with appropriate, affordable housing. To read the submission in full, click here.

Jeremey’s Story

At 49 years old, Jeremey found himself sleeping rough.

“Looking back, I think lots of things melded together over a long period and led to my
homelessness,” he explained.

Jeremey’s challenging childhood meant he faced adversity early on.

“I came from a broken home, my father left when I was six.

“I went to a different primary school every year of my life.

“I actually think homelessness, movement and that transient lifestyle was part of my life
from the outset.”

Jeremey’s life was further complicated.

He lives with a disability called spinocerebellar ataxia. This genetic disorder affects the nervous system. It often results in poor movement and coordination, difficulties with walking, speech, vision and fine motor skills.

Fast forward to 2019, the loving father of three found himself in a tragic downward spiral.

“I lost my business. And then my relationship with my partner broke up.

“I was getting increasingly sick and wasn’t talking to people.

“I didn’t look after my mental health.

“I started drinking instead of paying my bills. I just gave up on everything.”

Jeremey was exhausted.

“I’d always fought my way out of things but this time I was lost.”

After considering sleeping in his car, Jeremey decided to move into the bush as that would
be more comfortable for his dog, Brown Eyes.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Jeremey said

“I thought I can’t be out on the streets with my dog.

“So, I ended up in the bush.”

Jeremey found himself sleeping rough deep in bushland in the central highlands of north-
western Victoria.

Knowing he could not survive long without shelter, Jeremey used $300 of his few remaining
savings to buy an old 1970s van.

“It wasn’t really a van. It wasn’t something you could go camping in,” he said.

“Slowly over time I made it more and more liveable.”

This van was to be Jeremey’s ‘home’ for 18 months.

It gave him a small but vital refuge from gruelling sub-zero temperatures and piercing, icy
winds.

“It was freezing,” he said

“The wind would just blow straight through the van.”

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

“The isolation in the end got me, especially when Covid hit.

“I missed my kids ‘cos they’ve always been in my life, I don’t have a lot of friends, so my
life was my children.

“It got lonely, very lonely and I got sick of myself.”

Jeremey’s situation became increasingly dire.

Then one day a chance encounter with Uniting Ballarat’s outreach team marked the turning
point in this single father’s life.

“When Uniting came along and found me, they were looking for someone else,” Jeremey
said.

“And I just said, well look I’ve been out here for months and I haven’t got any money.”

Stacey, Team Leader at Uniting Ballarat’s Street 2 Home program, remembers that early
meeting.

“When we first met Jeremey, he had been rough sleeping for 18 months. He was out in the
bush,” Stacey says.

“His weight had dropped. His physical health had deteriorated. His appearance was sunken
because he couldn’t access fresh water or showers or basic hygiene and health needs.”

Jeremey’s homelessness had taken its toll but the Uniting team sensed an opportunity to
help foster a better life for him.

They began assisting him with finding a home. Most importantly of all, they gave him the
care and help he needed to reconnect with others.

“When the Street 2 Home team told me about a home in Creswick, I was excited,” he said.

“My caseworker told me that he’s got a home for me, he’ll help me furnish it.”

Jeremey recalls his first night in the new home.

“I slept in a bed.

“I hadn’t slept in a bed for over 18 months, it was lovely.

“I slept like a log.

“The Street 2 Home team even bought my dog a bed; she was pretty happy.”

A year later, and having turned his own life around, Jeremey was the perfect candidate to
join Uniting Ballarat’s Street 2 Home team.

“Now I work here, they can’t get rid of me,” Jeremey jokes.

“My role at Uniting is officially Street 2 Home Homeless Peer Support Worker, I’m extremely
proud of that.

“I have the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had in my life.

“And I love seeing people I work with everyday smile, it’s awesome.”

As someone who has experienced the heart-breaking reality of sleeping rough, Jeremey
sees homelessness on the rise. He knows more needs to be done.

“As a single parent, what I went through before would be 10 times worse now,” he said.

“I feel so much for low-income people, single parents, unemployed people, my goodness.

“How can they pay for rent on a Newstart allowance?

“There’s an element of unfairness in our society at the moment that we really need to
address. The way we live, it’s just not right.”

Yes, Jeremey fortuitously crossed paths with Uniting. But sadly another 116,000 people face
homelessness every night of the year.

Another 190,000 households are on the waiting list for social housing. And it can take up to
eight years for someone to be housed.

At Uniting, we are experiencing a 53% increase in demand for our services and we are
trying our best to help every person and family who has fallen on hard times.

However, we can’t do it alone.

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

Donate now.

Carers Week: A time to recognise our unsung heroes

As part of Carers Week, Uniting Vic.Tas is celebrating the invaluable contributions carers make to the lives of millions of people across Victoria and Tasmania.

Whether it’s providing a home for vulnerable children, supporting people with a disability, or taking an elderly neighbour to their medical appointments, carers come in many different forms.

Some carers look after another person 24 hours a day, while other carers help with specific tasks, such as housework, transport or shopping.

Uniting Vic.Tas is one of the providers of Carer Gateway, a national program funded by the Australian Government, which offers a diverse range of support services for unpaid carers and improve their own wellbeing.

A partnership with Merri Health, our Carer Gateway program operates across Melbourne’s east, Gippsland, the Goulburn North East and Albury/Wodonga regions with services provided in- person, online or over-the-phone.

Catherine is a carer for her two sons. Her eldest son was diagnosed with autism when he was two and her other son, has developmental delays.

“I didn’t really recognise the impact (being a full-time carer) would have on my life,” Catherine said.

“When the autism diagnosis was made, I suddenly realised – ‘this is it, this is for life’ – so that’s when I called up Carer Gateway and it’s when things really changed, and I got the support I needed.

“Nobody really grows up thinking I want to be a carer. That’s not how we expect life to go. But life takes these twists and turns that we never expected or imagined.

“There’s a beauty in it (being a carer). The joy we have in our children meeting milestones – there’s so many things to smile about and we know there’s so much support for us.”

Uniting Vic.Tas Carer Services Manager Julia Fitzsimons said Carers Week, which continues until Sunday, is a time to come together and recognise all carers.

“It’s an important time to celebrate carers and recognise the ‘hidden carers’ in our community and make sure they have the support they need,” Ms Fitzsimons said.

Carer Gateway is available for unpaid carers who support people with a disability, chronic medical condition, mental illness or ageing related condition, such as dementia or mobility issues.

For more information on support for carers, visit Carer Gateway.

About Uniting
For over 100 years, Uniting has delivered community services across Victoria and Tasmania, supporting people at every stage of their lives. We empower children, young people and families to learn and thrive. We’re there for people experiencing homelessness, family violence, drug and alcohol addiction or mental health issues.

We provide people with opportunities to access training and meaningful employment and are proud to welcome and support asylum seekers into our community.

Find out more about our carer services’. 

‘Can’t afford to live’ as rising costs hit most vulnerable.

New research from Uniting Vic.Tas has uncovered the devastating impact the rising cost of living is having on Victoria and Tasmania’s most vulnerable.

The ‘Can’t afford to live: The impact of the rising cost of living on Victorians and Tasmanians on low incomes’ report, which was carried out by Uniting Vic.Tas and Swinburne University’s Centre for Social Impact, was launched today as part of Anti-Poverty Week.

The Uniting report lays bare the crippling effect the rising cost of living is having on the most vulnerable low-income earners across both states.

For the report, 112 people were surveyed including those on income support, working full-time, parents, carers and retirees. It found:

  • 92 per cent were cutting back on food and groceries due to costs
  • 85 per cent of parents with children under 18 were experiencing poor mental health as a result of rising costs
  • Women were more likely than men to be bearing the brunt of cost-of-living pressures
  • More than one in 10 reported an increased risk of family violence due to the strain of making ends meet

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said many families are being forced to make impossible choices between everyday essentials.

“People can only live a safe and dignified life if they can afford life’s essentials and can live free from constant worry about how they will keep a roof over their heads and food on their table,” Ms Pike said.

“A basic standard of living means being able to turn on the lights and not worry about having the power cut off. It means being able to afford food, rent, energy, water, medicine and education, without being pushed into financial stress or crisis.

The report found Tasmanians were among the hardest hit and more likely to be experiencing significant disadvantage due to cost-of-living pressures, including` struggling to pay rent, financial difficulties, poorer mental health and increased reliance on alcohol and drugs.

Tasmanians were also 25 per cent more likely to be experiencing difficulties with their housing situation due to the rising cost of living.

Jeremy Pettet, Executive Officer of Uniting Tasmania said the research supports what staff and volunteers see every day when people come into our emergency relief services to access food and material aid.

“Affording the necessities is now out of reach for many.” he said.

One person surveyed summed up the heartbreaking choices they are forced to make every day: “You pay rent, you buy groceries, and you freeze, or you buy groceries, you turn on the heater and (can’t afford) rent.”

A parent summed up their despair at the rising cost of living: “[The most significant impact is on] my mental health, I feel like a failure as a parent because I can’t afford to care for my children.”

As part of the release of the report, Uniting Vic.Tas is calling for changes to help ease cost of living pressures on low-income and other vulnerable people:

  • Raising the level of income support – JobSeeker and parenting payments
  • Increasing the rate of rent assistance
  • Greater funding for community services including emergency relief – such as foodbanks – as well as housing and tenancy, mental health, employment and social isolation support

The ‘Can’t afford to live: The impact of the rising cost of living on Victorians and Tasmanians on low incomes’ report was published on the Uniting Vic.Tas website at 10am Wednesday 19 October.

Read the report now

Above and beyond normal parenting.

Above and beyond normal parenting.

“It can take a long time to emotionally grapple with the words ‘disability’ and ‘carer’. They’re big words to come to term with,” said Catherine.

Catherine’s son, Luke, was diagnosed with autism in 2020. Her second child, Ben, was later diagnosed with developmental delay and is currently undergoing the autism spectrum disorder diagnostic proccess.

“Having a child with additional needs is really above and beyond normal parenting.

“When I look at my to-do-list, my email inbox, my calendar, 90 to 99% is probably to do with the boys’ additional needs.”

Catherine explains that on top of all the logistical and practical demands of being a carer, there is also an emotional pain that isn’t always spoken about.

“Luke has never actually been able to tell me he loves me because he actually can’t say those words and that is heartbreaking.”

Becoming a carer is something most people don’t anticipate happening, Catherine goes on to describe.

“It’s a role that we didn’t ask for, that we didn’t choose, and it’s been thrown on us and we are coping with it as best we can.

“Disability, mental illness, addiction – whatever it is for the person we are caring for, they didn’t choose that, they didn’t want that, and we’re caring for them and we didn’t really anticipate that either.

“I think what we can contribute is helping the people we care for live to their full potential.”

If you find yourself in a similar position to Catherine, it is important to remember that you’re not alone and there is support out there for you.

“Caring doesn’t have to swamp everything. And if it is swamping everything then that means you need more help.

“There is a lot of support for carers now. That will be offered to you. And you’ll make wonderful new friends that you never would have met before.

Today Catherine finds so much beauty in her role as a carer.

“When our son Luke said his first word, after he started speech therapy at 16 months, he said his first word aged three years and one month. And that was incredible.

“Celebrate so much, the little milestones because they are so significant.

Get the help you need to improve your wellbeing and maintain your quality of life as a part-time, full-time or even an occasional carer.

Find out more about Carer services

Watch Catherine’s video

Geographical area and visa status no barrier to mental health and wellbeing support

Being able to offer wellbeing support when and where it is needed is helping address an unmet need in communities.

Uniting Vic.Tas is one of a group of service providers involved in 23 new Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs around Victoria. These Hubs are an initiative from the State Government in response to the significant mental health impact of COVID. The Hubs provide free and confidential support to people of all ages to help with a range of different issues or life stressors.

Toni Smith, a mental health team leader in the Cheltenham area says partnering with EACH to deliver a Hub has meant her team can now deliver services to relieve the stress and anxiety of those in the community they may not have previously been able to reach.

“It’s a very unique service in that the criteria to be accepted into the program is virtually minimal. Age is not a barrier, geographical area is not a barrier, and diagnosis is not a barrier,” says Toni.

“If you have a Visa you can be accepted, and that’s a really rare. It’s open to every facet of the community, which makes it so attractive, and it actually fills a lot of gaps.”

The Hub has seen the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team active in the community offering support to those experiencing ongoing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, substance use or addiction, financial difficulties, homelessness or housing stress, and loneliness or social isolation.

Through the Hub, Mental Health and Wellbeing workers have been able to provide the support needed to help relieve much of their clients’ stresses and anxieties. Examples of the support they provide range from helping people from non-English speaking backgrounds successfully prepare NDIS applications, taking Polly the kelpie on her daily walks while her owner was receiving care in hospital, to providing companionship to those who may be feeling isolated.

Toni says rapport-building, consistency of care, listening, and providing social companionship are key to supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing, and helping them achieve their goals.

“The Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub program has given us the flexibility to connect with our clients through one-on-one meetings here in the office, and out in the community. We’re engaging with them by basing ourselves in community centres, as well as by travelling to their homes,” says Toni.

“[Our clients] have so many worries about so many things, because they haven’t had people to turn to. They come with five or six things at once, that are all as important as each other. Importantly, through the Hub, our clients now have the assurance of knowing they have regular, consistent support and workers to talk to,” says Toni.

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs are part of a $13.3 million Victorian Government commitment to provide easier access to mental health support via innovative local pop-up mental health services to deliver the support people need, close to their homes, as they continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To find out more about Victoria’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs visit Mental Health and Wellbeing Hubs – Better Health Channel.

Giving children experiencing disadvantage the best start to their education.

Uniting Vic.Tas has launched an innovative early education program to provide more support to children at heightened risk or who are experiencing social disadvantage and significant family stress.

Federal Minister for Early Childhood Education and Youth The Hon Dr Anne Aly MP and Local Member for Richmond Richard Wynne MP, helped launch the SEED (Specialist Early Education and Development) program at Uniting Vic.Tas Cooke Court early learning centre in Richmond.

The centre will aim to reproduce the results of the Early Years Education research program with our partners The Parkville Institute, the Australian Government Department of Education, the Victorian Government and Yarra City Council.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the program has an intensive early intervention and care approach looking to equip vulnerable children with the learning and developmental support they need as they start their education journey.

“The results of the original trial showed significant improvement in children’s cognitive skills including language and speech, resilience, social and emotional development,” Ms Pike said.

“As one of Victoria’s largest not-for-profit community services providers we’ve been providing early learning services across Victoria for more than a century. We know how critical early childhood experiences are for development and can have life‑long impacts on learning, health and behaviour.

“This program is about making sure children who experience family stress or social disadvantage can start school with confidence and developmentally equal with their peers.”

Parkville Institute Co-Director of Research and Practice Associate Professor Brigid Jordan said it was giving children experiencing disadvantage and family stress the best start to their education.

“Adverse early experiences cause significant disruption to brain development, emotional and behavioural regulation and the ability to cope with stress,” Associate Professor said.

“(This) can jeopardise the development of the skills and attributes required for successful learning and a healthy life. We are working to reverse these disruptive effects and deliver better outcomes for children and families.”

Pictured: Left to right Bronwyn Pike, Richard Wynne MP, Hon Dr Anne Aly MP and Robyn Goodwill

Developing a lived experience workforce for mental health services

At the beginning of February this year, Uniting was proud to be one of the six organisations chosen to offer the Lived Experience Peer Cadet Program. This employment opportunity is available for people with lived experience undertaking the Cert IV in Mental Health Peer Work.

The 12-month paid Cadetship is centred around assisting participants in developing their practical and personal experience so they can effectively work in the role of a lived experience consumer or career peer worker within a large community mental health service.

“The Peer Cadet Program is about establishing and developing the lived experience workforce so there is a pathway towards meaningful employment within the industry,” said Luke, one of program’s participants.

“For myself it’s been quite a good, stepped approach into the industry, especially considering I’ve come from outside it.”

Luke worked within the Australian Defence Force for 18 years before he decided on a career change.

“I did some soul searching and wanted to find out exactly what was important in my life and re-evaluate my values. This led me towards changing careers and focusing on mental health.

“I’ve got a real connection to this industry personally. Just due to my own struggles with mental health and my own recovery and having seen previous colleagues take their own lives.

“When I was studying Cert IV Mental Health Peer Work, I was recommended by one of my teachers to apply for this Cadetship and specifically I was told Uniting had a good program.”

While Luke is in the infancy stages of his career, he says the program’s expansive opportunities allow him insight into the many avenues available to him.

“I’m still deciding on what path I want to take but I suppose that’s the great thing about this Cadetship is there’s no pressure towards a specific path.

“It’s been great in assisting me to set up boundaries so that this work is a sustainable career path for the future.”

Amy, the Cadetship’s Project Lead at Uniting, says lived experience employees have a lot to offer the workforce.

“It’s important in building relationships with the people we work with. It breaks down the stigma for people accessing our services and asking for help,” she says.

“As a lived experience worker, you have that awareness that we can’t necessarily fix people’s problems, but we can walk alongside them as they figure out what they want in their lives or their recovery.”

Luke adds that lived experience workers can help inspire those currently struggling with their mental health.

“I suppose we provide a level of hope that recovery is attainable and achievable. If anything, we can be role models to people who are going through mental health difficulties, to show that there really is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Find out more about our services

Possum skin, a story of strengthened tradition, cultural identity and healing.

Possum skin tells the story of strengthened tradition, cultural identity, and spiritual healing in Aboriginal communities.

Uniting Vic Tas through its Communities for Children Hume Program collaborated with Hume City Council to run the Parents as Teachers (PAT) Project.

PAT is a home visiting program that engages with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families with children up to the age of three years. This program also supports parents of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to identify their strengths and work towards positive personal and interpersonal outcomes. One of these is the Possum Skin Workshop.

In the workshop, parents showcase the significance of their respective possum skins, discuss the symbolism and meaning of the designs, and reflect on how the cloaks strengthen cultural identity and what it means for the next generation.

A proud Kija Bardi woman

Salty’s mum is one of the participants in the program. In this story, she reflects on how Salty will be brought up as a proud Kija Bardi woman just like her mother, her aunties, and her Ja Ja (grandfather).

“The design on the skin tells the story of our land back over in the Kimberley region in north Western Australia. Our Kija mob is represented by the bungle bungles and our totem animal the big red kangaroo. Our Bardi mob is represented by the ocean and the coast with our tribal totem animal—the tiger shark swimming. They are connected throughout the design with footsteps and tracks connecting both our lands. It represents the history, our family’s journey, and the connection between the two mobs. Three symbols through the centre of the piece depict a man, followed by two women standing for Salty’s grandfather, her mother (me) and her. Towards the bottom right is a piece in the design that tributes Salty’s strong female presence in her life representing her grandmother, mother and three aunties.”

Our past, present, and future are always linked

Lia* contemplates her family’s journey and how symbols in the possum skin play an important role in healing.

*Not their real name

Effective July 2022, the PAT Project has transitioned to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Engagement Project. It remains to be coordinated by Hume City Council, in partnership with Uniting Vic Tas under its CfC Hume Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

The Orange Door Network now available in the Wimmera

Wimmera residents now have access to co-ordinated family violence and child wellbeing services in the one place with the opening of The Orange Door in Horsham.

A partnership between Uniting Vic.Tas, Grampians Community Health, Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-operative and the Victorian Government, it will provide face-to-face and outreach services to people experiencing, or who have experienced family violence, across the region.

As well as visiting the Horsham service in person, virtual and face-to-face outreach support will be available at locations across the Wimmera from later this year. The Wimmera includes the local government areas of Hindmarsh, Horsham, Northern Grampians, West Wimmera and Yarriambiack.

From early 2023, two Orange Door practitioners will be co-located at local services throughout the region one day a week and available for face-to-face meetings. Outreach workers will also be available to meet with people where they feel most comfortable.

The Orange Door network is now operating in 15 areas across the state with a further two areas on track to open by the end of 2022.

The Orange Door network is at 3-7 Madden Street, Horsham and is open Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.

For more information and contact details visit orangedoor.vic.gov.au

Giving voice to young people in out-of-home care

“When I decided to go to Uni, my Uniting worker was able to help me find tutoring and stuff like that, so that was pretty good. They paid for it all so it wasn’t any stress on like the people I was living with at that time. The extra support outside of school hours really helped me to complete year 11 and 12 when I was thinking about leaving. I lived in a house with 6 kids so it was that extra time of quiet where I could study and if I had questions I could ask somebody that was a teacher.” – Rebecca, living in kinship care.

In August 2022, Uniting Vic.Tas provided a Submission into the Systemic Inquiry into the Educational Experiences of Children and Young People in OOHC. In putting this Submission together, we had the privilege of hearing directly from young consumers about their experiences of education while living in out-of-home care (OoHC) and the impact a lack of Government investment in therapeutic residential care had upon their schooling outcomes.

“Like I know when I was jumping through the foster care system being put in a different place every night, I’d end up sometimes two or three hours from school and they sometimes wouldn’t take me. They’d be like, no, you can’t go today because you know, we’re not transporting you like there was one time where I was in (redacted) and I was at school in (redacted). It took about four hours to get there and they didn’t wanna do it.” – Paul, living in therapeutic residential care.

“When I left that school, they tried to communicate with the next school for me but the new school didn’t do anything. When I moved, I was doing a special program and they never put through that information or my grades or anything. After I kept moving schools, I was like, I hate school now. It was hard to stay motivated. I know I need to, but I wasn’t learning anything from it.” – Jamie, living in therapeutic residential care.

Every child has the right to an equitable schooling experience, no matter their circumstances. Uniting know that feeling included and connected to education is important to children in OoHC feeling safe and well.

Read the Submission in full.

A lifetime dedicated to helping others

For more than 30 years, Amanda Exley has devoted her life to supporting some of the most vulnerable children and families.

A Group Manager for Child, Youth and Families with Uniting Vic.Tas across the north of Melbourne and northern Victoria up to Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga, every day she’s making a difference.

Amanda shared her story as part of the Victorian Government’s new Jobs that Matter campaign aimed at encouraging more people to consider working in the community services.

As part of. her role, Amanda and her team regularly work with those who have experienced family violence and children in out-of-home care.

“There’s a certain sensitive nature to the work that we need to do. Supporting (people) through schools, finding housing, finding jobs, escaping violence,” Amanda says.

“One of the most rewarding experiences working in this industry, is to sit with a family and to hear what their goals are and how they want to get there and then how we can support them to do that.

“Letting them see that, there is a way forward and then actually getting there with them and walking that journey and walking alongside them to get there.

“If someone was thinking about working in child, youth, and family services, I would recommend that they wear their heart on their sleeve (and) are prepared to work hard.

“A lot of people will be quite daunted by this kind of a role. I often get told, ‘I don’t know how you do that’, but it’s because there’s a whole team behind you. The work isn’t easy, but it’s very rewarding and fulfilling.”

Hear Amanda’s story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBl7V53Lwz8&t=6s

Video courtesy Victorian Department Families, Fairness and Housing

An update from Tom

Tom’s story was featured in our recent Winter Appeal.

Last time we spoke with Tom (pictured), he kindly shared with us how Meals for Change, Ballarat’s community meals program, had helped turn his life around.

An update from Tom.

Finding himself homeless at only 18 years of age, Tom says he wouldn’t be where he is today if it hadn’t been for the support he received at Uniting.

Although Tom no longer drops into Meals for Change, he still keeps in touch with Jen (pictured), the program’s Coordinator and his “guardian angel at Uniting”.

“Tom is going so well”, Jen reports. “And has recently secured work with a local business owner in construction renovating a Ballarat landmark.”

Tom completed a TAFE furniture-making course back when he was a Meals for Change member.

You may remember Tom had previously started his own gardening business, however, recently he has decided on a career change.

“He’s always had a strong interest in wood and construction.

“I’m just so proud of him but more importantly he should be proud of himself.”

Thank you for spreading hope this winter.

For many like Tom, winter can bring a world of worry.

With the rising cost of living and residual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are sleeping rough and worrying where their next meal will come from.

Services like Meals for Change can be the boost they need to get back on their feet.

Unfortunately, this past year we have seen more people than ever accessing our services.

Luckily, there are generous people like you making a difference in their lives. Catherine Byrne, Uniting’s Emergency Relief Coordinator for Goulburn North East and Wodonga, knows how important this support is.

“They make a huge impact,” says Catherine.  Catherine explains this winter the team have handed out more and more tents to people.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” she says. “Rentals are becoming too high for many people existing on JobSeeker payments. They’re struggling to pay their rent.

“So they are very grateful for any support.”

Support those who need it most in your community

Donate now

Christmas countdown making a difference.

Tami and her family have been donating food at Christmas time for almost 10 years now.

“I hate chocolate advent calendars,” Tami confessed.

“You’re giving your children something sweet every day leading up to the most indulgent day of the year.

“And you’re not really teaching them anything in the process.” Tami’s frustration at the Christmas tradition sparked a new way for her family to celebrate.

“I still wanted to do something to build up the excitement towards Christmas.

“So I came up with this idea of doing a reverse advent calendar. Where instead of the kids getting something, they would give something.”

From here Tami, her husband and two children began their new Christmas tradition.

Every year the family look on Uniting’s Food For Families website, write a shopping list and do a big grocery shop.

Tami then creates her own ‘advent’ calendar which tells the family each day what food item to put in the Food For Families box they are gradually filling. Whether it be a tin of tomatoes or packet of pasta or box of tea leaves.

“The children really enjoy it. They’re 9 and 11 now and really into it,” says Tami

“I wanted to teach them Christmas is about giving, it’s not just about receiving.

“It’s about thinking of other people who might not be in a fortunate position.”

Tami reflects on her own childhood and remembers she herself went through a couple of tough periods.

“I have been on both sides of it and now I’m in a position to help people,” she says

“My children have never known an experience like that. So I like them to see they’re living a pretty comfortable, privileged life and not everyone has it that way.”

Tami and her family have been donating food at Christmas time for almost 10 years now.

Not only has this tradition continued at home but Tami has also taken it to work.

“People in our team want to make a difference on the small scale that they can,” she says.

“That small scale is appreciated in the context of Food For Families.”

Get involved

We want to provide families and individuals with food and essential items all year round. But to do this,we need your help.

Register today or donate now

 

Team Life Cycle.

Calling themselves Team Life Cycle, these keen riders from Melbourne have a passion for pushing their bodies to the very limit, all in the name of mental health.

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

Woody dreamt of spreading the news that riding a bike not only has fabulous health and social benefits but can also help others.

The Murray to Moyne is a team endurance event and has become 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 Murray River, riding across stunning countryside in western Victoria and finishing in Port Fairy.

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

Although many of the riders from Team Life Cycle are no strangers to this relay event, this year was the start of a new partnership with Uniting.

“We are delighted to partner with Uniting Vic.Tas for the first of what we hope will be many fundraising cycling events,” says team captain Chris Moorfoot.

One in three Australians suffer from some form of mental illness throughout or during their lifetime.

The residual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have also affected mental health by increasing stress, anxiety and isolation, and many people are\ still trying to find their feet.

This is why Team Life Cycle’s efforts are so important in showing support for those living with mental illness.

Fundraise for us

Whether it’s a workplace event, marathon, karaoke night or birthday bash, we can help you celebrate with impact.  Find out how you can start your fundraising journey with us today.

Find out more or Donate now

Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb 2022

On Saturday 10 September 2022, 600 Firefighters and other emergency service personnel are ‘stepping up’ to fight depression, PTSI (Post Traumatic Stress Injury) and suicide.

For the 7th year running, the Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb is raising money for our Lifeline services. Through their work, firefighters and other emergency service personnel are acutely aware that mental health has emerged as the underlying crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the last two years, the climb has been virtual. But, this year the 600 firefighters and other emergency service personnel participating in the 2022 Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb will once again climb the 28 floors of Crown Metropol Hotel in Melbourne in real life, fully laden down with 25kgs of breathing apparatus and ‘emergency turnout gear’. Their aim? To raise $600,000 for mental health.

This money will improve support services, fund research, remove stigmas and raise awareness of mental health issues – like depression, PTSI and suicide, especially for those within the emergency service and defence communities.

A third of all funds raised will go to Uniting Lifeline Melbourne to ensure that staff and volunteers can cover the phones during peak periods on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. For these are the times when people can often feel at their most vulnerable and turn to Lifeline.

This year, the Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb team have also invited friends and supporters of the emergency service community to join them “virtually” to climb a “Million  Steps For Mental Health” together.

Virtual supporters are being asked to climb at least 3,139 steps over the course of 31 days, starting Wednesday 10 August and finishing Friday 10 September.

Why 3,139? This is sadly the number of Australians who lost their lives to suicide in 2020.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your back steps, some stairs at the local park or even a milk crate in the lounge room, we are asking you to “step up” and get involved too by climbing 3,139 steps for Mental Health.

Sign up today

Donate now

Samantha’s passion led to new career opportunities

It was through working at Horsham Uniting Early Learning that Samantha discovered her passion for supporting families doing it tough.

“We were working with a number of vulnerable families, and I was very passionate about developing the sense of trust they needed,” she says.

When families were referred to additional support services, Samantha found herself wanting to make sure they were being properly cared for.

This interest led Samantha to a career change where she made the move from educator to Integrated Family Services (IFS) Worker.

“Working in Family Services you use different strategies to build that bond and relationship with the families and help them to open up.

“Some families have gone through lots of trauma or are just dealing with everyday struggles. From intake to closure, to seeing the development of the families throughout those weeks is very rewarding.”

“I value being able to really assist them outside of childcare and working more with parents rather than just the children themselves.”

In her work Samantha found that IFS staff come from so many different backgrounds.

“Some members of the team have studied a Bachelors of Primary or Social Work, Diplomas of Community Services, and there are a couple of people who used to work in areas like IT.

“Everyone brings something interesting to the role.

“It’s great to see different people’s point of views, how they have learnt things and what they have been through.”

Formal qualifications aren’t required to be an IFS worker.

“To get this IFS role I just needed to have some transferable skills, an ability to connect with people, and a willingness to learn and develop.”

Samantha says she has received a lot of support since beginning her new role.

“My first week in the Family Services role was very guided. I wasn’t thrown into the deep end.

“I was allocated very low risk clients to begin with, which meant that I was comfortable, and protected the safety and best interests of everyone involved.”

Helping others has led to personal gain for Cindy

A little over a year ago, Cindy found herself with extra time on her hands and decided to make the most of it by giving back to her local community in Ballarat.

“I was looking to support an organisation that matched my interests and values,” she says.

“The opportunity to volunteer with Uniting Ballarat Emergency Relief Centre (ERC) seemed a perfect fit.”

A year later, she has not looked back.

“Our ERC provides practical, immediate financial and material assistance to a diverse range of people facing financial hardship.

It is a warm, welcoming environment, and part of the wider network of services Uniting offers to the people of Ballarat and surrounds.”

Cindy loves that her role is so varied.

“No two days are the same. I assist with tasks like the reception of visitors, initial eligibility assessments and data entry.

“I also guide clients through the process of choosing food and personal items from our fabulous mini-market style pantry, and of course unpacking goods and keeping our shelves stocked and the centre tidy.”

While Cindy set out on her volunteering journey with the aim of helping others, she has been constantly surprised at just how much she has gained personally.

“Being part of a highly dedicated and compassionate team working together to make a difference is so very rewarding.

“Seeing how some practical assistance, a welcoming smile, a friendly word, can ease the burden for those doing it tough is extraordinary and humbling, and helps me appreciate all that I have that much more.”

“Seeing the way each customer is treated with respect, listened to and heard makes me a better person in my everyday life.”

Get involved. Become a Volunteer.

Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!

National NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia in the first week of July each year (Sunday through to Sunday) to celebrate and recognise the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

NAIDOC Week is an opportunity for all Australians to learn more about the history and cultures of our First Nations people and to celebrate the oldest continuing culture on earth.

This year’s theme Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! encourages all of us to join together to push for institutional, structural and cooperative change while celebrating and recognising those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders who have led change over generations before us. 

Staff across Uniting Vic.Tas will be joining in local celebrations across Victoria and Tasmania to celebrate NAIDOC week. We also believe NAIDOC Week is an opportunity to affirm our support as the largest community services organisation in Victoria and Tasmania for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a First Nations voice to Parliament protected in the constitution. We believe a First Nations voice must be enshrined in the constitution to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have a voice over the laws, policies and decisions that affect them.  

To find out more about NAIDOC celebrations happening across Australia visit the NAIDOC website.

Tasmanian Government to raise the minimum age of detention to 14 years.

Uniting Vic.Tas fully supports the decision of the Tasmanian Government to raise the minimum age of detention to 14 years.

While this doesn’t include raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, which still applies in both Victoria and Tasmania, it is a step in the right direction.

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.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said there is 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.

While other states and territories, including Victoria, have proposed to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12, in our view, 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. The UN recommends raising the minimum age of detention to 16.

The current laws in Victoria and Tasmania still 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 publicly commit to 14 as the age of criminal responsibility.

A new life for Yasmin* and her son.

At just 20 years old, Yasmin made the courageous decision to flee from Somalia with her two-year old son.

Arriving in Australia as a refugee in 2015, the family were placed into social housing.

Needing an income to support herself and her son, Uniting’s Social Housing Employment Program (SHEP) helped Yasmin find a job as a cleaner.

Despite having to face the linguistic, cultural and political challenges that come with being a refugee in Australia, Yasmin has flourished.

She has excelled in her career, her employer reporting that he is very happy with her work and has even asked if she is available to work further hours.

Uniting’s Employment Coach has helped ensure Yasmin’s job fits around her son’s school times, booking Before and After School Care when needed. They have also assisted in placing her son into school holiday programs during term breaks.

Her employer has been sensitive to her personal needs, allowing Yasmin to work four days a week during the month of Ramadan.

Yasmin’s confidence has been growing day by day as she builds a brighter future for herself and her son.

SHEP is a new initiative which will create 200 jobs, for people like Yasmin who are living in social housing.

The program offers a minimum 12 months of secure work for jobseekers who are social housing residents, people living with a disability, women (particularly over 45), the long-term unemployed, people aged 18-25, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, veterans and those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

The Minister for Employment, Jaala Pulford recently announced the $3 million initiative.

“People living in social housing will benefit greatly from this initiative through creating jobs for residents and delivering better services,”, Pulford said.

“We’re backing all Victorians to get the skills and opportunities they need to secure jobs in the social housing sector.”

Uniting Vic.Tas are proud to be the service provider chosen to deliver this program.

*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.

Bringing ‘fun dad’ vibes to help youth in need.

“The voice for children that don’t have a voice”, is how Kris describes his role as an Intensive Family Support (IFS) Worker at Uniting.

When vulnerable youth are getting lost in the system, be that at home or school, they need a little extra support.

“We come in to help. Not just directly with the children, but with the whole family”, says Kris.

Before Uniting, Kris had a history of working in retail and insurance brokering.

“I loved the office side of it, but I wasn’t getting any social interaction.”

So, he moved into working in Employment Services, which was the right blend of office and interaction with clients. He found this experience of helping youth find work to be particularly rewarding.

“I found it really easy to engage with them. That ability to connect could be because of my background. I’m quite a goofy Dad at home, so that comes through a little bit.”

It was through this work that Kris realised Community Services was his true calling.

“All you need to be an IFS Worker are social interaction and basic office skills, as well as knowledge of how families work and to be culturally sensitive and open minded.”

“My wife works at Uniting, so I knew it was a good place to work, and there were so many opportunities.”

Being a typically female dominated role Kris found his male perspective really helped him connect with some of the clients.

“I am finding my strengths are with first time Dads that are now single Dads, or those that don’t have anyone to talk to because they are either too scared or ashamed to ask for help. But if you can speak to them as a guy who’s been through something similar, it breaks down that barrier quite quickly.

“Young males in particular don’t tend to want to open up to complete strangers.

“Sometimes they just need a male.”

Since starting his role Kris hasn’t looked back.

“It’s a great environment to work in. I feel like I’ve found my forever workplace.

It’s the first time I have ever felt passionate about coming to work and wanting to do better and getting out there to help the local community that I live in.”

Charmaine found her work-life balance at Uniting.

There are lots of reasons to start your career with Uniting. For Charmaine it was finding that work-life balance.

Having worked as a secondary teacher for 10 years, she was finding the afterhours and weekend work was taking a toll on her family life.

“There was no defined line between family life and work life.”, Charmaine says.

“I felt like I needed a change and wanted to do something that was a little bit more family friendly.”

Charmaine found a Kinship Care role advertised on Uniting’s website.

“I thought about the transferable skills I had from teaching and thought I would give it a try.”

Charmaine says her career change has been the positive change she needed.

“I now have the work-life balance I was yearning for, and I get to spend weekends with my family.

“Uniting is very supportive of personal needs, family oriented, and conscious of supporting staff to maintain mental health.”

Not only is the role a better fit for her family but also one she enjoys.

“I find the job very rewarding because I get to help young people and work with their families.”

Now is the time to Be Brave. Make Change.

On National Sorry Day, we stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recognise the mistreatment, injustice and trauma for First Peoples who were forcibly removed from their families and communities, whom we now know as ‘The Stolen Generations.’  

We deeply regret the legacy of past policies and practices that continue to have a detrimental impact on the identity, dignity, and spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. These historical injustices remain a source of intergenerational trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities.  

As the community services organisation of the Uniting Church, we support the call from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress: 

We want to start a new chapter with the community and government and collaborate and co-design everything that is important to us. We want to uphold the principles of the Uluru Statement and change the system to reflect us, our culture, and our sovereignty as First Peoples in Australia. We want truth to be told and systems to be changed, so that our culture and our history is embedded into every part of our society. 

Uniting Vic.Tas strongly supports the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a First Nations voice to Parliament. We believe this must be enshrined in the Australian constitution to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have a voice over the laws, policies and decisions that affect them.  

Uniting Vic.Tas is committed to reconciliation. Our vision for reconciliation is that all people stand together to create socially just and culturally safe relationships with, and opportunities for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

During Reconciliation Week 2022 we are being asked to Be Brave, Make Change and this begins with a commitment to truth-telling.  

In Victoria, the Yoorook Truth and Justice Commission is underway. Yoorook is the first formal truth-telling of injustices experienced by First Peoples in Victoria. As a community, we must listen, learn, and reckon with our past in order to heal and move towards genuine reconciliation.  

At Uniting we are pleased to be working on our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (Innovate RAP) launched in March 2021 which commits us to a series of tangible actions for change. Our Innovate RAP guides our efforts to ensure our programs and services respect the cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities. This work is being driven by our Reconciliation Lead, Eva Orr:  

While a lot of work has happened and many significant steps towards reconciliation have been taken, reconciliation is an ongoing journey that we must take together. 

Each year events are held across Australia to mark National Reconciliation Week and many Uniting staff will be attending local events in the communities in which they live and work. 

Find an event near you 

Uniting hosts launch of the April edition of Parity Magazine

Uniting had the pleasure of hosting the launch of the April 2022 issue of Parity Magazine in partnership with the Council to Homeless Persons and Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Katie Hall MP (pictured above). Uniting CEO Bronwyn Pike hosted the event.

The April issue of Parity Magazine, ‘Homelessness and Young People: Support During Troubled Times’, centres around the intersection between homelessness and young people. The current social housing system is designed for adults; there are distinct differences in experiences of homelessness for young people, who require specialised support and receive limited benefit from adult-focused services.

Uniting CEO, Bronwyn Pike contributed an article to Parity in which she calls for a continued commitment and investment in the youth homelessness sector.

“Safe and secure housing is a major factor in helping get a person’s life on track. This is particularly critical for young people, who are only at the start of their journey. As a society, we should be doing all that we can to help the next generation lead healthy and productive lives. Young people need governments across the country to step up and invest in social and affordable housing on an ongoing basis and at a rate to keep up with increasing demand.”

Kate Waterworth, Team Leader for the Youth Support Team in Horsham also contributed an article for Parity, unpacking the barriers services face in supporting young homeless people and identifying ways to achieve greater outcomes.

“Coping skills and strategies for me are the foundation to setting our young people up for independence and success. Our support services are generally connected in with young people longer than specialised services which coincides with the supports. ”

Katie Hall MP, the Parliamentary Secretary for Youth and for Multicultural Affairs was in attendance to formally launch Parity Magazine and spoke of her passion for supporting young people, particularly after the COVID lockdowns.

“The pandemic brought many challenges to the lives of young people, challenges that greatly impact their mental health and their prosperity and these issues are compounded and reinforced by homelessness.”

“We’re committed to ensuring young Victorians have access to the accommodation and support they need to build strong futures”.

Read the full edition of Parity

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

Career change brings Kate unexpected joy.

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 on board as a volunteer and I’m lucky to call him a friend.”

Become a volunteer.

Donate now to support Uniting services.

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.

Donate now

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.”