Paul’s story

Social isolation is a crippling feeling.

Paul Camilleri knows this all too well.

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

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

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

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

“After my diagnosis, people stopped reaching out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul recently completed a course in public speaking.

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

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

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

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

Ending homelessness together

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

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

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

“There’s strong evidence that it’s only after securing safe and permanent housing that people in crisis are able deal with other important needs such as finding a job or seeking support for mental health or alcohol and drug issues they may have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike’s story

Sean’s story

Rachael’s story

Kylie’s story

Cliff’s story

Graeme’s story

Mike’s story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He moved to his new apartment in June of 2021.

Mike often expresses how thankful he is for this opportunity.

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

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

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

*Name changed to protect identity.

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

Sean’s story

Sean’s experience with homelessness spans over 35 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He accesses food through Uniting’s emergency relief service.

And he is now a regular at NoBucks community meals program, which provides free, hot meals each weekday for people in crisis.

“I really enjoy the social interactions at NoBucks,” he says.

“I can talk to people and have a laugh, which takes my mind off things.”

“The team (at Uniting) have been a great help. I can’t thank them enough.”

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

Rachael’s story

In March, Rachael was approved for a home through the Homelessness To Home program.

Rachael, 23, has been homeless since her mother kicked her out of the family home at just 18 years.

She has couch surfed, stayed in temporary accommodation, crisis accommodation and moved from house to house, living in at least 26 different places in the past few years.

“I have always been homeless or couch surfing or in Reid’s and never really had a place to call home,” she said.

“I have lived with people in the past which didn’t work out. I would move in with partners and most of those relationships turned into domestic abuse.

“Just knowing I am going to have a place that is mine, a place to call home, a place that is safe, honestly meant the world to me.”

Rachael first got in touch with Uniting the day she got off the plane and returned to Ballarat from Queensland after living with her dad.

With nowhere to live, she was supported to stay in transitional housing managed by Uniting.

From transitional housing, Rachael moved to youth accommodation, to live with partners, to a drug detox facility, back to Reid’s, to a friend’s, to a hotel and the cycle continued.

Moves were driven by relationship breakdowns, family violence and financial difficulty. She has been on Youth Allowance and then JobSeeker payments.

Rachael explained how she had experienced mental health issues, was a victim of significant family violence and had suffered drug and alcohol addiction throughout the past few years.

To be eligible for program, people must have been placed into crisis accommodation in hotels and motels from March to December 2020 and have a history of rough sleeping or chronic homelessness.

“Before, I had basically given up. I thought life wasn’t going to get any better. It never had for me,” she says.

“I think I might have been wrong. I was so convinced nothing would get better. Now I have my mental health in check, I am not using drugs or alcohol, I am looking after myself, life has just gotten so much better.

“Stability will definitely make it easier. The fact I have my Ps (probationary driver’s licence) will also make it easier and it will get a lot easier when I get a car.

“This program has changed my life for the better.”

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

Kylie’s story

The absence of a safe and secure home can have a devastating impact on families. Kylie knows this all too well.

Kylie had been living in a private rental property with her partner, son and daughter-in-law until early 2018.

When her partner was sent to jail, Kylie was no longer able to afford the rent and the family were  evicted from the place they had called home for many years.

With no-where to go, the family spent the next 3-and-a-half months living in their car.

“I felt sick to the stomach when we had no-where to go as I’d never been in that situation before,” says Kylie.

“I got really depressed and kept putting myself down.

“I told my son and daughter-in-law that I was no good for them because I couldn’t support them.

“It’s the lowest I’d ever felt, and I didn’t want to be here.”

After months of struggling, the family were put in touch with Uniting.

They were provided with emergency accommodation in a motel in Ballarat, before moving into a friend’s house while they waited for transitional housing to become available.

When that placement broke down, the family spent the next 2 weeks living in their car again.

“It seemed like we were stuck in this awful cycle,” says Kylie.

“But thankfully we reached out to Uniting again and they put us in a motel for a couple of days and then found us transitional housing in Daylesford.”

That was 2 years ago, the family have been living in the Uniting Housing property while they wait for a public housing property to become available.

During that time, Kylie’s son and daughter-in-law welcomed a baby boy into the family.

“I’m so grateful to Uniting for putting a roof over our heads before my grandson was born,” says Kylie.

“My mental health is much better and we’re all doing really well now.

“Any time I need to talk, the team from Uniting have been there.

“The future is looking much brighter for us than it was this time 2 years ago.”

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

Cliff’s story

Cliff is one of the growing number of people who has reached out to Uniting Vic.Tas housing and homelessness services.

Cliff had been living in a caravan near Ballarat after finding himself homeless through the breakdown of his marriage.

The 65-year-old reached out to Uniting when his savings dried up, leaving him with just $90 in his bank account and unable to afford the weekly caravan park rent.

“It was a scary time. Living in a caravan isn’t ideal, but at least it’s somewhere to sleep at night,” says Cliff.

Cliff tried to sign up to receive Centrelink payments, but was told this would have to be done online.

“I struggled, because I’m not very good at using computers,” says Cliff.

“It was daunting, and I didn’t know what to do.

“I feel really lucky that I found Uniting and they’ve been able to help. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

Cliff now receives Centerlink payments and has applied for public housing.

Cliff says while he wanted to seek help earlier, his mental health battles stopped him from doing so.

“I wasn’t in a good place, mentally,” he said.

“I knew I needed help, but I was in a rut.

“I’m glad I did though.

“People need to know there are places like Uniting that can help. You don’t have to do it on your own.”

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

Graeme’s story

Graeme is a Uniting Vic.Tas consumer involved in the Victorian Government’s Homelessness to a Home program.

Here, Graeme share’s his story.

“Recently, I moved into a house in Avoca, Victoria after being homeless for over 13 months.

I lived here a long time ago when my children were young. I am one of the few lucky ones to have found a home under the Homelessness to a Home program.

It all started for me in late March 2020 when I was asked to leave the private rental property in Hamilton I was living in at the time.

I was staying with a friend of mine and her property manager didn’t approve of me staying there.

This was really tough because it was in late February and March which was when COVID-19 first hit, and my options were limited.

I was only going to stay there for a short time, and I had stored my belongings and my furniture in her garage.

We tried to reason with the property manager and assured him that I was doing everything I could to find a rental property, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

His response was that I need to leave, or else he would evict both me and my friend.

I obviously couldn’t take the risk of my friend getting evicted because of me, especially when she had gone out of her way to help me.

By this point she became scared and anxious at the thought that she might get kicked out.

I gathered my things and left the house because I didn’t want to get her in any further trouble. I was homeless for the next 13 months.

I initially lived in my car.

I kept everything with me and moved around to avoid loitering.

It was tough and I felt overwhelmed.

I tried to get support in the Hamilton area.

I rang up Lifeline for support.

I also rang a lot of the homeless services.

I kept going around in circles, being given multiple numbers to call and getting referred back to the same services again.

There are limited services in Hamilton and while they try to support people living rough, rentals are hard to come by and there just aren’t enough shelters in the region.

When the limited accommodation that such services can offer runs out, homeless people are often back to living on the streets.

At times, I was living in motel rooms in Hamilton.

I moved over to Warrnambool when I found a cheaper motel.

But the price went up while I was living there and I had to pay $590 a week on my Centrelink Disability Pension Payment.

It wasn’t easy living in these motel rooms. It was a life of constantly being adrift.

How are you supposed to get through it? What are you supposed to do?

I was applying for private rentals through estate agents and landlords throughout this time, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Applying to rentals and accessing services is much harder when you don’t have a stable living location or access to internet.

After a few months I got to the point where I basically gave up.

How are you supposed to get through it? What are you supposed to do? Who are you supposed to talk to?

I never thought I would ever be homeless, but once I was, I despaired that I would never find a home again.

The Homelessness to a Home program was introduced to me by a Salvation Army Connect housing worker.

I remember a phone conversation saying to her ‘look, I don’t think I’ll get a place ever.

I’ve tried that many rental agents.

I’ve replied to that many. I’ve viewed that many properties.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the Salvation Army Connect contacted Uniting Vic.Tas on my behalf.

I remember sitting with the Salvation Army housing worker in the car and saying ‘Well, I don’t think you can get me a house, can you?’. And less than a week later, Uniting found me a home.

Imagine my delight when he presented me with an 18 month-lease.

I didn’t have a phone at the time, so most of the communication was on email until we met.

Imagine my delight when he presented me with an 18 month-lease.

It was a targeted and tailored  package that would give me support for that period.

I knew then that they had been doing a lot of work behind the scenes.

To be honest I was stunned and amazed because I had pretty much given up on the chance of finding a home by that point.

I mean, there are other people out there in dire situations, domestic violence cases for instance and that’s not my situation.

So, it’s fair to say that I am impressed with the marvellous job that they had done.

I moved into a house in Avoca in May and am signed up till at least October 2022.

For the first time in thirteen months, I feel safe. I’ve got security and a roof over my head.

I have peace of mind knowing that I’m not going to have to go back to sleeping in my car for a while.

This is not just my story and there are many others who go through the same thing day in, day out.

I’m just one of the lucky ones to have a place where I can shelter for the time being.

I’m so thankful to all support workers who’ve helped me over the time.

They really do deserve a medal for everything they’ve done for me. I never expected half of this.

The questions I ask is why it is so hard to get a private rental?

But the questions I ask is why it is so hard to get a private rental?

Why are landlords and estate agents so difficult to deal with these days? Why are support services struggling to home people all over the country?

I’m telling my story so that people know what it’s  like and why the system needs to be fixed.

Nobody should have to go through what I have.

If you’re out on the streets you’ve got nothing.

The thought of having to go out on the streets and be homeless again scares me.

It’s one that I never want to go back to.”

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

Tree change brings unexpected benefits

Jannine had longed to leave the hustle and bustle of Melbourne behind.

So earlier this year, Jannine and her husband packed up and relocated to Gippsland.

“My husband accepted a job in Gippsland over 2 years ago, so he was commuting a lot,” says Jannine.

“It was in our 5-year plan to make the move.”

After purchasing a home with acreage, the couple are “absolutely loving” their tree change.

“(The move) has been a big help for our mental health. We are much more relaxed,” says Jannine.

“When you walk down the street, people smile and say hello. The people are so lovely.”

The couple’s 24-year-old daughter still lives in Melbourne and travels to Gippsland every 2 weeks.

“She calls it her happy place,” says Jannine.

“She comes down to relax and recharge. It’s really helping with her studies.”

Jannine has worked for Uniting for 12 years, supporting vulnerable families experiencing alcohol and other drug, mental health and family violence challenges.

“I was able to transfer from Melbourne to Gippsland, which was really handy for me. That’s what I like about Uniting, you have the opportunity to base yourself in different locations.”

“It’s been exciting to meet and work with new people and understand the community connections they have.

“Even though I’m doing the same job, it feels like it has slowed down a bit.

“And one of the big bonuses for me is car parking. I was paying $10 a day in Melbourne. Here, it’s free. And there is always plenty of parking available.”

Jannine encourages others considering a tree change to take the leap of faith.

“If your circumstances are right, I would say do it.”

While Jannine and her husband have spent a significant amount of time in lockdowns since relocating, they are looking forward to exploring their new community.

“I’m keen to join the local rock and roll dancing group,” says Jannine.

“We’re planning to get some sheep and alpacas.

“It’s a different lifestyle than we’re used to, but we love it.

“Everything is so close. The traffic isn’t as congested. And it’s still only 2 and a half hours from Melbourne on the freeway.

“It’s been a great move for us.”

Family values at the heart of Leeann’s Uniting connection

Uniting has been Leeann’s second home for over 22 years.

“I’ve spent over half of my working life at Uniting, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” says Leeann.

“I’ve had lots of different roles from working in homelessness and family violence services to managing our reception team in Sale.

“That’s what I really love about Uniting – the diversity of work it has offered me.”

Leeann moved to Sale 25 years ago.

At the time, she had a young family but no social network.

“Uniting became my family and I’m still very close to a lot of people I have worked with over the years,” says Leeann.

“In a sense, my children grew up in the organisation. They were able to come in after school, sit in the lunchroom and do their homework.

“It was a family friendly environment. It still is.

“Over the years I’ve had a sick partner and parent to care for. The support I’ve received has been immeasurable.

“That’s what I love about Uniting. We say we are a family friendly organisation and we really are.”

Through her varied roles, Leeann has worked in various Gippsland offices, including Sale, Leongatha and Bairnsdale.

“It really helps to get to know more people across the organisation,” says Leeann.

“It means you’re not doing the same thing, day in and day out. And it’s lovely to meet and work with new people.”

Leeann has a message for people thinking about moving to her beloved Gippsland region.

“Whatever your interests are, there’s something here for you,” she says.

“It’s a great place to raise a family. I often get out and about with my grandchildren.

“And it’s really not that far from Melbourne. You can do a day trip on the public transport route.

“I often do a day trip to attend the theatre or the museum.

“If you’re thinking about it, give it a go. You won’t be disappointed.”

A big win for Early Childhood Educators.

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the approval of the Victorian Early Childhood Teachers and Educators Agreement (VECTEA) 2020 which will bring our nearly 950 early childhood educators and teachers considerably closer to the wages and conditions of primary school teachers.

The agreement will deliver significant wage increases along with 16 weeks employer-paid parental leave for primary care givers and four weeks for secondary carer givers, 20 days paid family violence leave and 15 days personal or carers leave for each year of service.

The agreement also recognises importance of wellbeing with those under the VECTEA now able to access confidential counselling. The new agreement also includes providing educators with more time to plan and deliver their educational programs.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike welcomed the agreement as recognition of the hard work and dedication of early childhood educators.

“We’re very proud of our early childhood educators and the role they play in children’s lives,” Ms Pike said.

“We know how important a solid foundation is for children in their early years. Our early childhood educators deliver high quality educational programs giving children a solid base preparing them so they’re ready and fully equipped for school.

“This agreement is recognition of their hard work and dedication, and hopefully, this new agreement will help encourage more people to consider a career in early childhood education.”

“Such a significant agreement cannot be reached without commitment and goodwill from everyone involved, including unions, the Victorian State Government, and the Early Learning Association of Australia who acted on behalf of Uniting.”

Thank you to the Moreland City Council

Thank you to the Moreland City Council for supporting our Refugee Week celebrations.

Unfortunately, an afternoon tea planned for this weekend by our Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre and fellow community service organisations for people seeking asylum in the Moreland area has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, the Council has kindly provided food vouchers with the funding allocated to host the event.

The local library has also provided craft packs for local families to enjoy during the school holidays.

We have recently joined forces with the Council to improve access to local services for local refugees and people seeking asylum, including free access to aquatic and leisure facilities, free swim classes for children and access to school holiday programs.

Our multicultural services aim to build connection, reduce isolation and provide a positive future for people newly arrived in our community.

Dedication to financial counselling recognised

Congratulations to Sue Fraser, who was awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) in this year’s Queen Birthday honours for her financial counselling work and supporting people experiencing vulnerability across the community.

Sue has been a champion for collaboration between the community service and business sectors to improve outcomes for people in hardship.

Sue started her financial counselling training in 1988 and joined Uniting in 1995.

Since then, Sue has been a leader in the industry for her visionary work.

Throughout her career, Sue has focussed on prevention, early intervention and support programs.

Sue has supported industries to increase awareness and understanding of economic abuse, through her work supporting those impacted by family violence.

Sue and her team work with the banking, debt collection, utility and telecommunications sectors to secure positive financial outcomes for consumers and business alike.

She has travelled across Australia and internationally, advocating for people in financial hardship.

Sue says the honour is humbling but unexpected.

“When I heard that I had been nominated, I certainly didn’t think I would receive (an OAM),” says Sue.

“These types of acknowledgements aren’t achieved by yourself. I received this because I work with a team and for an organisation who is willing to take risks and do things outside of the box.

“People have commented that it’s nice to have an ordinary person recognised for work that doesn’t have a high profile.

“It’s rewarding to know that the work we do makes a real difference for so many people.”

Find out more about our financial counselling services.

Sharon’s fresh start felt like a fairy-tale. That’s until the pandemic changed everything.

Leaving her country of origin, she came to Australia in 2019 to marry her childhood sweetheart. Together at last, it felt like a dream come true: a real opportunity for love, happiness and new beginnings.   

“I wanted to find new meaning and a new hope, living a healthy family life,” says Sharon.  

Filled with excitement, she couldn’t wait to see what the future had in store. The family settled in Shepparton, where her husband had been living since 2015.  

Then, the whole world was put on pause.  

COVID-19 swept across Australia, changing life as we knew it. As everything closed, Sharon’s family life started to falter.   

The pandemic took its toll on their family—and her marriage. 

Eventually, Sharon’s marriage fell apart. Without food, income or housing, she packed up and left with her children.  

Sharon’s future was uncertain.  

“I had big questions about my life and my decision to come to Australia,” says Sharon. 

“Had I jumped out of the pot into the fire? I had to start my life all over again.” 

Then, Sharon was referred to Uniting’s team in Shepparton.  

Connecting with our Settlement Hub service in Shepparton—which helps people who have been in Australia for less than 5 years—Sharon found the emergency relief and financial assistance she needed to get back on her feet.  

With hope in her heart, Sharon felt empowered. She successfully applied for a case manager support role with Uniting. Sharon now helps other asylum seekers to feel comfortable in their communities and understand what services are available for them. 

“It was a real moment of hope for me,” she remembers. “I knew with a full-time job, I would be able to afford a rental property, provide the basics for my children, manage my studies, and live without fear.” 

As part of the role, Sharon delivered meal packs to families in need, actively sharing in a program that helped her so much. 

Afterwards, she went back to the motel she called home, telling her kids how fulfilling it was to be able to help people just like them. 

Sharon recently reunited with her husband and they are working on building a happy future together.  

“We are not perfect human-beings, but when we try, half the battle is won,” says Sharon.  

Sharon is not alone in her story. Thousands of people across Victoria and Tasmania are struggling this winter. Your donation today will bring a brighter tomorrow for people in your community. 

Together, we can share hope – and change lives.

Uniting Vic.Tas recognised at 2021 Australian LGBTQ+ Inclusion Awards

Uniting Vic.Tas, one of Australia’s largest community services providers, has been acknowledged as a national leader on inclusion.

The 2021 LGBTQ Inclusion Awards recognise Australian organisations for reaching and exceeding benchmarks for inclusion based on the recent Australian Workplace Equality Index and the Health+Wellbeing Equality Index.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the Silver Tier Award in the Health+Wellbeing Equality Index was recognition of Uniting’s commitment to inclusive service provision.

“We know that LGBTIQ+ people have too often faced rejection, social exclusion, discrimination, harassment, judgement, isolation and refusal of service because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status,” Ms Pike said.

“For many years, as an organisation, we’ve demonstrated a whole of organisation commitment towards improving LGBTIQ+ inclusive practices.

“Many LGBTIQ+ people don’t access the critical services they need for fear of actual or perceived discrimination and sadly, this often results in poorer health outcomes.

“Our commitment towards being an LGBTIQ+ inclusive workplace and delivering services which welcome and support vulnerable people, regardless of their gender or sexuality, is as strong as ever.

“We stand side by side LGBTIQ+ communities in continuing to advocate for social change.”

Statement on Victorian Government emergency relief funding package

“This pandemic has devastated families right across Victoria, so we welcome the additional emergency relief and hardship funding announced today by the Government. This will provide much needed assistance to Victoria’s most vulnerable.

“We’re especially pleased with the extra support for culturally and linguistically diverse Victorians, including temporary migrants and those on provisional visas. This is a group that’s been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, so ensuring they’re aware of, and receive, the emergency support available to them is critical.

“Since the start of this pandemic, we have experienced unprecedented demand in the numbers of people seeking emergency relief asking for food parcels, financial, housing or mental health support.

“In the second half of 2020, requests for food parcels doubled, while numbers needing help with housing, clothing, paying the bills or other support services, more than tripled.

“Our emergency relief services in Melbourne and across Victoria have seen people they’ve never seen before. People who have come to us desperate for help.

“We’ve seen international students to mums and dads in secure jobs who suddenly found themselves out of work and struggling pay the bills or just put food on the table.

“This funding package will help ensure nobody gets left behind. It will mean emergency relief services can provide for more Victorians in need allowing people to pay their rent, pay their bills and feed their families.”

Statement on Federal Government temporary COVID disaster payment

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to provide a temporary COVID disaster payment to eligible Victorians from next week but said it could have been provided as soon as the recent lockdown was announced.

“This payment will provide much needed relief to those most vulnerable Victorians. However, this is our eighth day in lockdown already – it shouldn’t have taken this long,” Ms Pike said.

“The Federal Government regularly provides support and financial assistance to people after floods, bushfires and other disasters and COVID is no different. Vulnerable people have been suffering through no fault of their own and they deserve help from all levels of government.

“We believe the real and underlying issue here is casual and insecure work. There are hundreds of thousands of ‘working poor’ around Victoria, people who live paycheque to paycheque, who work multiple jobs just so they can make ends meet.

“For months now we’ve argued the Federal Government ended the Jobseeker COVID supplement too early. This supplement provided a crucial lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Victorians, especially during the long lockdowns last year.

“These payments are not about a handout, it’s about allowing people to have a basic standard of living, a lifeline so they don’t slip further into poverty. A lifeline until things are back on track and they’re able to resume their work.

“We continue to support and stand by vulnerable Victorians who require support during this time by providing emergency relief such as food parcels, cooked meals and other assistance people may need.”

Our services are still operating

Victoria is once again entering a lockdown because of levels of COVID-19 in our community. It is on all of us to do what is needed to contain this outbreak and limit the time we spend in lockdown. 

Many of our services are considered essential and will continue to operate. This includes our early learning childcare centres and kindergartens, residential facilities, alcohol and other drug programs, support to those experiencing homelessness, family violence and those in need of emergency relief 

Our meal programs will be take-away only until the end of the lockdown. 

Our op-shops will be closed. 

Most of our other programs and services will continue to be available over the phone. 

Anyone coming to a Uniting location will be asked to wear a mask, register via QR code or the site register, practice hand hygiene and maintain physical distancing at all times. 

We understand how hard it is to return to lockdown and we will do our bit to make this time as short as possible. 

If you are struggling in any way, please reach out to a service such as Lifeline, which is on 13 11 14. 

 

National Reconciliation Week 2021

National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

This year’s theme – More than a word. Reconciliation takes action, urges the reconciliation movement towards braver and more impactful action.

We all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures and futures.

Guided by Reconciliation Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan framework, we are taking a strategic approach to advancing reconciliation in our organisation.

We recently launched our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan.

This plan encourages us to deliver services and other support that respects the cultural rights, values and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities and identify opportunities to work towards reconciliation right across Uniting.

We thank everyone for their contribution to our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan, particularly the guidance and support provided by the Aboriginal members of our Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group.

Each year events are held across the country to mark National Reconciliation Week.

From awards to webinars, virtual and in-person events, there are many ways you can get involved in National Reconciliation Week 2021.

Find an event near you.

A Budget of fairness and care for Victoria’s most vulnerable

We welcome the 2021-22 Victorian State Budget as delivering for vulnerable Victorians.

With significant investments in mental health, preventing homelessness, jobs and at-risk children and families, Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said she was pleased with the focus on health and wellbeing and supporting those who need it most.

“This is a Budget which recognises and responds to the immediate needs of vulnerable Victorians while also putting the building blocks in place for the challenges ahead,” Ms Pike said.

“The $3.8 billion investment to rebuild the mental health system is a game-changer which shifts the focus to prevention and early intervention and for the first time recognises the importance of proper mental health care.

“We commend the Government for continuing funding for the Private Rental Assistance Program, which is giving security to thousands of people by providing them with the support they need to stay in their home.

“Uniting Vic.Tas has committed $20 million towards social housing, including a plan to build 500 new homes over the next five years. We look forward to continuing to partner with the Government to deliver its social housing strategy.

“New residential rehabilitation beds and community-based alcohol and other drug treatment services, particularly in regional areas, will give people struggling with addiction more options to get the help they need, close to home.

“We strongly believe in a harm minimisation approach and support the continued investment in medically supervised injecting rooms, which will save lives.

“We’re delighted with the expansion of three-year old kindergarten across the state from 2022. This will give every child regardless of where they live, the best start in life.

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

“The continuation of funding for Child FIRST which connects vulnerable families to services which best suit their needs and provides access to appropriate community-based support is a positive.

“Overall, we believe this is the right Budget for the time, a Budget which delivers for our most vulnerable and takes important steps towards improving the health and wellbeing of all Victorians.”

Celebrating our volunteer heroes

From providing hot meals to the homeless to helping asylum seekers adapt to life in their new country, Uniting Vic.Tas volunteers provide 1.2 million hours of service to local communities every year.

As part of National Volunteer Week 2021 (May 17-23), Uniting Vic.Tas is acknowledging the tireless work of its more than 2400 volunteers who play an integral role in delivering essential community services across Victoria and Tasmania.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the organisation’s volunteers support a broad range of programs from aged and home-based care, emergency relief, early learning, youth mentoring, disability support and op-shops.

“Last year, our volunteers answered more than 65,000 calls to our Lifeline 24/7 phone support service giving people comfort in their darkest moments and helped pack 35,000 food parcels and serve 61,500 meals to people in need.”

“This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is Recognise, Reconnect and Reimagine, which is about recognising the contribution of volunteers, reconnecting to what’s important by helping others and reimagining how we can better support volunteers.

“Above all, this week is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate the work of volunteers and to say thank you.

“More than 42 per cent of our workforce are volunteers and they generously give up time with their families and loved ones, putting in long hours, day in, day out, to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Our volunteers are at the heart of everything we do in this community and we’re always looking for more, so if you can help, please get in touch with us.”

Some quick facts:
  • More than 2100 volunteers and volunteer carers help deliver more than 100 community support services
  • In 2020, answered 65,000 calls to Lifeline, the crisis support and suicide prevention phone line
  • Cooked more than 61,500 meals and prepared more than 35,000 food packages for people in crisis
  • 361 foster carers provide a safe and secure home for thousands of at-risk children
  • 430 volunteers help to run 24 op-shops around Victoria and Tasmania
  • 479 volunteers support around 2500 older people to maintain their independence
  • Speak 70 languages and assist with the settlement support of asylum seekers
  • 42 per cent of our workforce are volunteers.

Find out more information about becoming a Uniting Volunteer.

Help give some warmth to those in need this winter

With the colder months upon us, Uniting Vic.Tas is again calling for your help to bring some comfort to those who need it most.

With the colder months upon us, Uniting Vic.Tas is again calling for your help to bring some comfort to those who need it most.

As part of this year’s Winter Blanket Appeal, we’re appealing to the community to dig deep and donate. Just $29 is enough to buy a new blanket or doona for someone doing it tough in our local community.

With homeless numbers on the rise, the race is on to keep those most vulnerable in our community warm and sheltered this winter.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said poverty, unaffordable property rents and family violence were among the leading contributors to homelessness.

“This is a time of great uncertainty and we know there are many people in our community who are really struggling,” Ms Pike said.

“With the end of JobKeeper and the reduction in the JobSeeker payment, we’re bracing for a surge in demand and that includes people experiencing homelessness.

“Homelessness isn’t just living on the streets. It could be someone with nowhere to live and having to ‘couch surf’ or a mother and her children fleeing family violence and living in their car.

“We see many people who are lucky enough to have housing but are forced to choose between purchasing food or paying for electricity. It’s the most disadvantaged people in our community who are always hardest hit in the colder months.”

“We’re asking people to contribute what they can. All donations are welcomed and will be appreciated this winter.”

Donations can be made at your local Uniting Vic.Tas emergency relief centre.

Find locations near you.

Making community connections

Husband and wife, Aliuddin and Nishat started volunteering at Uniting to give back to their new community.

The couple moved from Melbourne to Hobart 2 years ago with their young son.

“One of our friends volunteered with Uniting and suggested we give it a go,” says Aliuddin.

“It’s been a wonderful way to connect with our new community.

“We’ve made new friends and met some great people through volunteering.”

The couple are now an invaluable part of the volunteer team in Hobart.

Along with coming in at short notice to cover other volunteers and working additional hours during busy times, the couple are more than willing to do the less glamorous jobs like taking rubbish to the tip.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nishat helped to set up Uniting’s new office in Bridgewater.

Aliuddin played a vital role in delivering food and toiletry hampers to people who couldn’t leave their house due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This involved picking up goods from the supermarket, making hampers, packing them into a delivery van and personally delivering the packs to people in need.

This is all while the couple study, Aliuddin works part time and cares for their 2-year-old son.

“Helping someone is the rent you pay to live in this world,” says Aliuddin.

“We feel lucky to have the opportunity to help others.

“Hobart is a wonderful community and it’s been lovely to connect with other people through volunteering.”

Become a Volunteer

Serving up care and compassion

For 15 years, Sue has volunteered with Uniting’s Winter Breakfast program in Prahran.

Each week, she serves up hot breakfasts to people unable to access food.

Prior to retiring 2 years ago, Sue says the role perfectly suited her busy working life.

“I would come in and volunteer 1 day a week from 7am to 10am and then head off to work,” says Sue.

“If you want to volunteer, you can always fit it in somewhere.”

When COVID-19 hit last year, Sue swapped her Winter Breakfast shift to the lunchtime shift.

She has also spent time volunteering in the Prahran Op Shop and delivering Christmas hampers to bring a little cheer to people during the festive season.

“Volunteering is so diverse. There are so many roles available and you meet some wonderful people,” she says.

“I’ve volunteered across all areas in Prahran, apart from emergency relief.

“It was great that we were able to stay open and offer takeaway meals to people in need during COVID-19 restrictions.”

Sue says she was humbled when people started bringing in gifts to thank volunteers who continued working during the pandemic.

“People were bringing in little gifts like lollies, chocolates and flowers,” says Sue.

“People really appreciated that we had stayed open during such a scary time.

“It made us feel like we were doing something worthwhile.

“For people to bring in gifts, when they have so little themselves, was so kind and that memory will stay with me forever.”

Sue says she has gained a lot from her volunteering roles.

“Volunteering gives you a sense of purpose,” she says.

“It teaches you gratitude, patience and kindness. It’s well worth the time.”

Become a Volunteer

A passion for helping others

Marg draws inspiration from the people she meets while volunteering.

The 75-year-old has been volunteering with Uniting’s emergency relief service in Wodonga for 7 years.

Prior to that, she worked with the organisation as a pastoral care counsellor for 7 years.

Marg also volunteers with Lifeline.

“I’ve met a lot of interesting people over the years at Uniting,” says Marg.

“Many have been dealt a tough hand in life and live with physical and mental challenges.

“But they cope. They are so strong. And they often have remarkable resilience.”

Marg and the team in Wodonga provide practical support to people in their time of need.

From food to funds for medication – Marg says it all helps.

But she understands that reaching out to Uniting for practical support often means there are other challenges at play.

“Often we are able to talk to people about their needs and they are a lot more complex than just needing food,” she says.

“We provide referrals to housing and mental health agencies.”

Marg recalls one man who reached out for support with food.

“He had come in a few times and I discovered he was experiencing homelessness,” says Marg.

“One day he walked in with his head in his hands.

“He said he hasn’t been able to have his son stay with him because he was living in a tent.

“And he was struggling with his mental health.

“We were able to give him food, refer him to a local housing provider and encourage him to call Lifeline to talk about his troubles.”

Marg says he was very grateful and hasn’t been back to the service since, after finding the support he needed.

“I like to think we’re giving people more than food, we’re also giving them hope in their time of need.

“I feel like I’m being useful and giving back to my community in a small way.

“Whenever you volunteer, it’s a 2-way street. You give but you get back as much as you give.”

Become a Volunteer

Supporting local youth

Inspired by her own struggles growing up, Carolyn has been a Youth Mentor with Uniting for over 6 years.

“When I decided to start volunteering, I knew I wanted to help children and youth in some way,” says Carolyn.

“From my own experience as a teenager, not having the best relationships with my parents, I know how useful it can be to have someone outside of the family unit to talk to.”

Carolyn has mentored 3 local youth over her volunteering journey.

Working in a bank full time, she says she enjoys spending her down-time with the young mentees.

“I don’t have children myself, so it’s a nice way for me to connect with young people,” she says.

“I want to make a positive impact on their lives and give them opportunities they might not have.”

From going to a dog show to going to the library to read – Carolyn and her young mentees have taken part in a variety of activities.

“It’s nice because we bond over shared interests,” she says.

“Sometimes they want to go out and have some fun, and other times they just want to sit and talk.”

Carolyn admits she has dealt with some “testing” behaviour over the years.

“But once they start to open up and trust me, I’ve been able to understand where that behaviour is coming from.

“Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience.

“I’ve been able to see them grow as people and become more confident in themselves.

“It has certainly opened my eyes as to the challenges young people face today, including social media and bullying.”

Carolyn is still in touch with her former mentees.

She says she has gained more than she has given.

“If you’re thinking about it, give it a go,” she says.

“There is as much reward in it for the adult as there is for the young person.”

Become a Volunteer

A listening ear in a time of crisis

As a retired teacher and social worker, Julia knows the importance of having someone to listen during a time of need.

Julia has been a Lifeline volunteer for over 25 years.

“Listening to people is an essential skill to have in this role,” says Julia.

“We’re not there to fix the problem.

“We listen, encourage and drop in the odd suggestion when possible.”

Julia first started volunteering with Lifeline in Melbourne in 1995.

When she moved to Ballarat 3 years later, she joined the local Lifeline team.

Uniting Vic.Tas operates both the Melbourne and Ballarat Lifeline centres.

Julia has also volunteered as a prison chaplain.

“A close family member had mental health challenges, so it’s something that is important to me,” says Julia.

Julia has answered thousands of crisis calls.

But she likes to think of crisis in a different way to many.

“People often view the word “crisis” as a negative,” she explains.

“But I see the word “crisis” as meaning “crossroads,” where you can choose your direction.

“I choose to see crisis as an opportunity to go in a better direction.”

When COVID-19 hit, the Julia was no longer able to attend the Lifeline office.

Instead, she now offers support to fellow volunteers when difficult calls come through.

“I am also available for volunteers to debrief at the end of the session if they need to talk to someone,” says Julia.

“As a Lifeline volunteer, it’s important to talk to others, to look after yourself.”

After all these years volunteering, Julia says she is grateful for the many life lessons she has learned along the way.

“I’m learning all the time from the callers and from fellow volunteers,” she says.

“I have always been the one who gained. I joined because I thought I’d like to help other people, but through the training and from my peers, I’ve learned a lot more about myself.”

Become a Lifeline Volunteer

Federal Budget boosts services, but little to ease affordable housing crisis

One of Australia’s largest not-for-profit community services providers, Uniting Vic.Tas, today welcomed additional funding in the 2021-22 Federal Budget for aged care, mental health, disability, and family violence services, but argued it was a missed opportunity to address the affordable housing crisis.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the additional support for some community services was much needed, but more could have been done to support the homeless and those living below the poverty line.

“The additional 80,000 Home Care Packages will support more older people to continue to live independently in their own home,” she said.

“We are also pleased the government has provided funding for new mental health initiatives and a range of programs that directly support women and children who have been subjected to family violence.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic demand for all our services increased significantly including a 36 per cent increase in referrals to our Men’s Behaviour Change programs in just a six-month period, so additional funding for these services was long overdue.”

Ms Pike said more could have been done in the Budget for people on income support or the two million Australians who are unemployed or underemployed.

“We still believe the Government needs to raise the Jobseeker payment to a rate which affords people a basic standard of living,” Ms Pike said.

“We’re disappointed there was no new funding for social housing or making housing more affordable.

“Affordable housing is about more than just providing a roof over someone’s head. It gives people a launchpad to help them escape the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage.

“We support the measures to make childcare more affordable, but the cost is still a significant barrier, especially for many low-income families.

“As a provider of Lifeline and mental health services, we’re also pleased with the new funding for mental health counselling clinics and the establishment of a National Suicide Prevention Office.”

Don’t get burnt by high winter energy bills

If you’re struggling financially and worried about how you’ll pay your heating bill this winter, you may be eligible for support from Uniting Vic.Tas.

Uniting Vic.Tas has partnered with Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Australian Energy Foundation to provide targeted advice and support to Victorians who need help with their energy bills.

The team of skilled advisors at the Energy Assistance Program will also help you find the best value deals and any money-saving grants and rebates you may be eligible for so you can crunch your energy costs and avoid bill shock.

Matt Cairns, Senior Manager of Uniting’s Energy and Financial Literacy Program said falling behind on energy bills continues to be one of the most common sources of financial stress raised with financial counsellors.

“The energy market can be really confusing and when people are faced with high bills and fall into debt, they often don’t know where to turn for support,” Mr Cairns said.

“Some people are struggling to catch up with their bills. But we also see elderly clients in winter who stop using their heating altogether because they are worried about the cost. That can seriously affect their health and welfare and we want to avoid that.

“We’ve seen some clients who are faced with unaffordable bills resorting to using credit cards and payday lenders. These can have huge interest rates attached to them creating a debt spiral from which they struggle to escape.

“Prevention is far better than cure, so if you’re struggling with your bills now, get in touch with us and we’ll support you to get back on track.

“Whether it’s sorting out a payment plan with your energy provider, how you can use your appliances more efficiently or finding the best energy deal for you, we’ll help give you some peace of mind.”

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

Support is available over-the-phone and we have interpreter support available in your language – start by calling 1800 830 029 or find out more about our Energy Services.

Family violence workshops for frontline workers

Lifeline Ballarat, part of Uniting Vic.Tas, is presenting a series of two-day Domestic and Family Violence training workshops for frontline workers across the Ballarat region.

Domestic and Family Violence Response Training (DV-Alert) is designed to build the capacity and skills of frontline workers in responding to family violence when it is not a core function of their primary role.

To be eligible for the free two-day workshops, participants must work or volunteer in health, allied health, community, higher education or childcare or in a frontline capacity supporting the general community.

At the workshops, participants will learn to recognise the signs of domestic and family violence, respond with appropriate care, and refer people to support services.

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

Lifeline Ballarat community training co-ordinator Belinda Collihole said the training would provide frontline workers with the tools they need to deal with family violence.

“Family violence doesn’t discriminate and because it most often happens behind closed doors, it’s largely hidden and often until it’s too late,” Ms Collihole said.

“It might be happening to a work colleague, a friend or your next door neighbour – it can and does happen to anyone and that’s why we all need to know the signs.

“Often victims of family violence don’t want to speak up or seek help because they’re scared or embarrassed. This training is about equipping people who work closely with the community every day with the skills they need to be able to identify and respond.”

The workshops will be held on April 28 and 29, May 5 and 6 and June 1 and 2, with workshops for frontline workers supporting multicultural communities on May 25 and 26, and frontline workers supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on June 8 and 9.

For more information phone Lifeline Ballarat’s Training Coordinator Belinda Collihole on 0466 852 016 or visit www.dvalert.org.au. To register for the workshops, e-mail [email protected].

Funding cut to homelessness services will hurt our most vulnerable

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has urged the Federal Government to re-commit to a vital funding program for homelessness support services or risk leaving thousands of Victorians in the cold this winter.

The Victorian Government has written to the state’s homelessness organisations warning the Federal Government has opted not to renew its funding as part of the Equal Remuneration Order beyond June 30.

The Equal Remuneration Order was introduced in 2012 to cover social and community workers recognising the sector’s predominantly female workforce had been predominantly lower paid because of their gender.

Ms Pike told The Age that Uniting Vic.Tas stands to lose $1.2 million in ERO funding for homelessness support services in 2021-22.

“(It will mean) people will have to wait longer for services,” Ms Pike said.

“It’ll be more people sleeping on the streets, more mothers who are sleeping with their children in their cars after fleeing family violence.”

Read the full story from The Age here: Homelessness funding: ‘Really worrying’ as groups face $20 million a year funding shortfall (theage.com.au)

To join the campaign calling on the Federal Government to reinstate the funding visit: Email the Federal Government | Don’t Close the Door: Save Homelessness Services (good.do)

It’s time for a public drug testing service and a drug early warning network in Victoria

As a leading provider of alcohol and other drug treatment services to the Victorian community, Uniting Vic.Tas fully endorses the recommendations by Victorian Coroner Paresa Spanos to introduce a permanent rapid public drug testing service to reduce the risk of drug-related harm.

We support any evidence-based initiative that will help to minimise the risk of harm or death due to alcohol and drug use.

We believe a drug testing service will allow people to make more informed choices about their substance use. However, any such service would need to be coupled with specialised support and access to a range of alcohol and other drug treatment services to be effective.

A drug testing service would also need to be accessible, timely and staffed appropriately to ensure people felt safe.

The Coroner also recommended the establishment of an early warning network for Victoria to provide rapid alerts to the community when dangerous new substances are circulating.

An early warning system would capture data from a range of sources and provide timely information to the community on high risk substances. Uniting supports the introduction of these evidence-based interventions and is currently involved in a project looking at how to translate police seizure data into useful clinical alerts.

A harm reduction approach neither condones nor condemns alcohol and other drug use. It provides practical, non-judgemental support to people who are actively involved in alcohol and other drug use.

Many of the harms associated with alcohol and other drug use can be reduced or are preventable. Substantial future harms to individuals, families and the community can be reduced or prevented by providing people with accurate information and appropriate support.

Our alcohol and drug treatment and support services provide information, advice, treatment and support for people seeking to make changes to their substance use. We don’t want to see any more Victorian lives lost especially when there are interventions that could prevent these tragic deaths.

The Coroner’s findings were released on April 7 and are available on the Coroners Court website.

Find out more about our Alcohol and Drug services.

Alone and afraid, Jhez wanted a brighter future for her baby.

Always able to support herself, Jhez’s world turned upside down in 2009.

She was 7 months pregnant with her first child, but her financial stability started slipping away.

Her relationship fell apart. Her finances crumbled. Her security began to unravel.

“Before I knew it, I was struggling to get by,” says Jhez.

Jhez connected with Uniting, discovering the practical support she needed, like food and housing, to get back on her feet.

Across Victoria and Tasmania, more and more people are facing desperate times like Jhez.

Feeling positive and prepared, Jhez started a new chapter with her baby boy, Troy.

“I made a promise to myself that I would never be in that position again.”

Little did she know, this was only the beginning of her story.

Ten years later, Jhez’s son reached out to Uniting.

But this time, it wasn’t to get help – it was to give back.

For his 10th birthday in February last year, Troy asked friends to donate to Uniting instead of buying gifts. He held a party at Uniting, delivering food and toiletries donated by his young friends.

“I’m so proud of him. He understands what I went through while I was pregnant and knows the importance of helping people.”

For many of us, 2020 presented hurdles. For Jhez and Troy, it held heartbreak. Now happily married, Jhez suffered a miscarriage during Victoria’s second COVID-19 lockdown.

“We were so excited when we found out I was pregnant… to have that joy taken away broke my heart.”

In the face of tragedy, Jhez remained committed to caring for others. She regularly volunteers with Uniting and, like Troy, has chosen to celebrate her 40th birthday with us.

“I’d like to follow in Troy’s footsteps and celebrate by giving back.

“It’s a meaningful way to mark the occasion and acknowledge how far I’ve come… all thanks to Uniting.”

With your support, we can stand with people through the toughest months of the year.

Your donation will transform lives across Victoria and Tasmania – this season and into the future.

Thank you for making new beginnings possible.

JobSeeker cut will plunge most vulnerable deeper into poverty

The $100 a fortnight cut to the JobSeeker payment will force more people into poverty and place even greater pressure on emergency relief services, according to Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike.

Ms Pike said the organisation is bracing itself for an expected surge in demand for food and housing support in the coming weeks and months.

“During 2020, we found demand at our emergency relief centres doubled from March to October as more people found themselves out of work – some for the first time in their lives,” Ms Pike said.

“The initial $500 a fortnight COVID-19 supplement made a real difference to people’s living standards.  For the first time in years, people on unemployment benefits could afford to buy fresh food, medicine, and clothes.

“Even when the supplement was reduced to $150 a fortnight, it was enough to provide many people with some certainty and some relief from having to constantly struggle to afford the basics.”

Ms Pike said replacing the COVID-19 supplement and increasing the JobSeeker payment by just $50 a fortnight would not be enough to save many families from crisis and having to ask for help.

“One million children in Australia have a parent who will be affected by this cut. What sort of future are we offering them, when their parents, often single mothers, are struggling to provide even the basics?

“With the end of this supplement, people will fall deeper into poverty and many will struggle to escape. Families are already under enormous stress whether it’s paying the rent or bills or just really struggling with their own mental health.

“The Jobseeker payment is not a handout, it’s about giving people a basic standard of living while they get back on their feet. Nobody should have to make a choice between paying the electricity bill and buying necessities like food or medicine.”

CEO Easter message 2021

Easter is for many a time of reflection and the hope for renewal. And for Christians, it is the most important celebration of the year.

As we approach Easter this year, we are reminded of all those who have been affected by COVID, bushfires and more recently floods.

Yet, in the midst of these challenges, we see signs of hope and resilience.

You can read stories about our work and people.

Whether Easter is a part of your tradition or not, I wish you a happy and refreshing break.

International Transgender Day of Visibility.

31 March 2021 is International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Uniting stands with our partnering organisations at the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare to recognise and celebrate trans and gender diverse children and young people and support the right for gender identity to be recognised, respected, and celebrated.

Read our joint statement of support here

Uniting is proud of our services doing this work including The Diversity Project, Karrung Youth Foyer, Queer Refugee & Asylum Seeker Connections.

Read more about how we are working for an inclusive community 

Statement on Victorian Parlimentary Committee Report on Homelessness by CEO Bronwyn Pike

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike today welcomed the release of a new Victorian parliamentary committee report which urged the Victorian Government to urgently address the state’s growing homelessness crisis.

Among the 51 recommendations in the report, the report urges the Government to increase the provision of affordable, stable and long-term housing, prioritise and strengthen early invention such as tenancy support programs and greater assistance for people fleeing family violence, new and innovative accommodation options and social housing which better meets the needs of those experiencing homelessness.

“We can’t continue to allow the most vulnerable people in our society to keep falling through the cracks,” Ms Pike said.

“Ending homelessness for good has to be our priority. That means even more investment from both State and Federal Governments in social housing, making housing more affordable and improving support.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a significant increase in homeless numbers which have stretched our services to the limit. The funding the State Government has provided for more social housing is a start, but we desperately need more intake and assessment workers at homelessness entry points so we can meet the demand.

“We often associate the idea of homelessness as somebody who is sleeping rough on the city streets, but that’s only a small part of the problem.

“In Melbourne’s outer suburbs and in cities and small towns across regional Victoria, there are thousands of people not only sleeping rough, but couch surfing or living in emergency or temporary accommodation and even in cars, including many women who have fled family violence.

“We know that safe and secure housing is a major factor in helping get a person’s life on track and it’s only once they secure housing can they address any issues they may have with employment, mental health or alcohol and drugs.

“The current Jobseeker rate is a major barrier to hundreds of thousands of Victorians being able to escape homelessness, secure a house, pay the rent and put food on the table.

“The recent $50 a fortnight increase was nowhere near enough and will only push people further into poverty and that’s why we’ll continue to advocate for a higher rate which pushes people above the poverty live and affords them a basic standard of living.”

See the submission to the report from Uniting.

The team that keeps giving

For most, Christmas is the ‘season of giving.’

But for the team at Epworth HealthCare, it’s something they do all year round.

A few years ago, the Epworth team joined our Food For Families appeal.

“Some of our staff commented that this is something we could do all year round, not just at Christmas,” says Scott Bulger, Executive Director of the Epworth Medical Foundation and Brand.

“Staff are encouraged to buy a few extra items when they do their shopping, bring them in and place them in one of the collection bins.”

The team have donation sites set up at their Richmond, East Melbourne, Camberwell, Box Hill and Geelong sites.

“It’s nice to know that the food we donate will immediately help people in their time of need,” says Scott.

Along with collecting food and essential items last year, the Epworth team raised $10,000 for Food For Families.

To find out how you can get involved in Food For Families visit the website.

Pictured: Executive Director of the Epworth Medical Foundation and Brand, Scott Bulger and Peri-Anaesthetic Manager, Alice Whitbread are happy to support Food For Families all year round.

Response to Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

One of Australia’s largest community services and mental health support providers, Uniting Vic.Tas, has welcomed the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System released today in State Parliament.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said of the recommendations, it was particularly important there was greater recognition of the need to improve treatment and outcomes for those with dual diagnosis.

Ms Pike said the Uniting Vic.Tas service model provided clients with a ‘one stop shop’ whether people with mental health issues could also address housing, employment or alcohol and drug treatment with the one organisation.

“We’re pleased the Commission included a number of our recommendations, including increased investment in early intervention and prevention and improved co-ordination of clinical and community mental health services,” Ms Pike said.

“Sadly, we’ve seen a sharp rise in demand for our mental health and crisis support services over the past 12 months, so it’s never been more important to invest in mental health.

“As one of Victoria’s leading mental health support agencies, we stand ready to partner with the Government to implement the recommendations included in the report.”

Uniting Vic.Tas Alcohol, Other Drugs and Mental Health General Manager Laurence Alvis told the inquiry about the need for better integration between mental health and alcohol and drug services.

“About 70 per cent of our clients have both mental health and alcohol and other drug issues, so it’s important these links have been recognised,” Mr Alvis said.

“If a client presents seeking treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, they will often not only have issues with their mental health, but also housing or employment, all of which are impacting on their lives.

“The holistic and integrated service model approach we have at Uniting Vic.Tas to dealing with all of the issues in people’s lives is the key to giving vulnerable people renewed hope, a path to recovery and better days ahead.”

You can read Uniting’s submission to the enquiry here

Media enquiries:

Cameron Tait 0407 801 231 – [email protected]

Caring for generations to come

A legacy that lights the way.

Janet is committed to caring for others – now and in the future.

Janet and her brother were raised on a healthy diet of caring, compassion and kindness. Taught by their mother to support those facing hard times, Janet has never lost the ‘habit of helping.’

A gift in her Will to Uniting serves 2 meaningful purposes for Janet: a tribute to her mother, and a way of caring for her community – long into the future.

“My mother died more than 50 years ago,” says Janet. “But, while she was alive, she always encouraged us to think about others.”

Janet is helping to ensure vital services will always be available and accessible to the most vulnerable in our community.

And you can too.

For information about how to leave a gift in your Will, please call us on 1800 668 426 or contact us.

Everyone deserves a place to call home

Securing stable housing can be the first step towards a brighter future. But for many, finding a place to call home can seem impossible.

The issue.

For people experiencing homelessness, housing affordability is often a hurdle on the road to stability.

Being unable to afford – or find – safe, stable housing affects their ability to better their circumstances and work towards a brighter future.

The problem.

Housing affordability continues to be an issue throughout our communities.

As property prices continue to rise, more and more people are finding themselves in housing stress. Yet, after decades of underinvestment,

Victoria still has the lowest proportion of social housing in Australia. 3.2% of Victoria’s housing stock is social housing – well below the national average of 4.2%.

It’s no better in Tasmania, where people in need of social housing struggle to find a safe, secure home.

The solution.

With your ongoing support, we are working to fix this problem.

So far, we have:

  • pledged $20 million to address the affordable housing shortage in Victoria and Tasmania.
  • planned 500 new social and affordable housing properties across Victoria over the next 5 years, including a 30- to 36-unit development at Ringwood.

“The bottom line is that we need to invest in more stock,” says Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike.

“We are providing housing for people on low incomes – we are not going to get the kind of rent that will pay back a commercial mortgage or loan,” she says.

“We need governments and private developers to partner with us during the construction phase.”

By speaking up and standing together, we can fix our system and support our community.

See more of our Advocacy work

The photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes. It is not a photo of Uniting consumers.

Coming together to transform Christmas.

In recent years, Jess (pictured left) and her family have enjoyed a new Christmas tradition: changing lives.
When the festivities get going, Jess gets to work. Every December, she asks her nearest and dearest to collect food and essentials for families in need. For Jess, 2020 was no different.

“Collecting goods from family and friends at Christmas is the perfect excuse to catch up and spend time together,” says Jess.

Together with friends and family, Jess gathered 27 bags and 14 boxes of food and essential items in 2020 – her greatest collection yet.

“We all need to eat, so it’s a simple way people can help,” says Jess.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people in your local community at Christmas – and beyond.”

You make a real difference.

Sonia shared her story as part of our 2020 Christmas Appeal, which raised over $544,700.

Sonia also celebrated Christmas with her family and friends at home.

But the festivities didn’t stop there. While picking up a food hamper, Sonia shared some Christmas cheer of her own. Sonia donated over 80 freshly laid eggs to Uniting’s NoBucks service in Hobart.

“Our chooks lay a lot of eggs, so I thought it would be nice to give them to Uniting for people who need them,” says Sonia. “It felt good to be able to give back.”

Sonia also presented the Hobart team with a tin of biscuits to say thank you.

“They do a wonderful job, and I wanted to make sure they know that it’s appreciated,” says Sonia.

Helping people find their freedom.

Seeking asylum is a human right.

People seeking asylum are some of the most vulnerable in our community. Many are fleeing persecution and harm, travelling to a strange country, often at great risk, hoping for comfort and support.

The Australian Government has decided to grant Final Departure Bridging Visa E to asylum seekers transferred from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment.

While the visa offers families their freedom, the government’s support stops 3 weeks after leaving community detention. After that, they are expected to support
themselves. For most of these families, this will be a challenge.

They may not be confident speaking English yet, or they might not have the right skills to find work. Even if they do, jobs are hard to come by in a pandemic.

Give a fresh start to families in crisis.

With your support, we offer families the support they need for their fresh start.

With our Asylum Seeker Programs, we can help them find a home, feed their families and feel positive about their future. But we
can’t do it alone.

Can you open your heart and your home?

If you’re interested in housing families as they
get back on their feet, please get in touch. We
are searching for potential spaces for families
for up to 6 months.

Be a part of their fresh start.

Can’t help with housing? Don’t worry – there are many ways to get involved. You can:

Uniting to make a difference.

Your generosity can change lives in your community, paving the way for a brighter future. Here’s how you can get involved.

Feeding families, changing lives.

Put food on the table – all year round – with Food For Families.

Thanks to your generous support, over 17 tonnes of food and toiletries were donated last December. This achievement provided support for people in their toughest season yet.

But the cupboards are already looking bare. With the growing demand, our supplies will be gone by winter. We want to support everyone who reaches out to us, no matter what time of year it is. But we can’t do it alone.

Your regular support will ensure people get what they need to get back on their feet. Because of you, we’ll be there when they
need us most.

Like the team from Epworth you can make a difference by donating items on a regular basis.

No time to collect? You might like to make a regular financial contribution. A little bit, every month, can provide a lot for people in need. For just $1 a day – or $30 a month – you can provide a family with the basics they need to keep going.

Become a year-round Food For Families supporter.

 

Flip for a good cause

Make a pancake – and a difference – for your community.

It’s never too late to flip for a cause.

Individually, or as a group, you can host a Pancake Day event any time before the end of March.

All money raised goes directly to your local programs, supporting people in your community when they need it most.

Thank you to everyone who has already registered or held their 2021 Pancake Day event. Don’t forget to share stories of your pancakes and warm hearts.

Visit the Pancake Day website for tips and resources to help your Pancake Day be a success.

Warm meals, friendly faces.

For over 30 years, people have come to Hartley’s Community Dining Room for a hearty meal. This vital service provides meals for those who couldn’t prepare or access food themselves.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Sadly, Hartley’s was forced to temporarily close its dining room in March 2020 when COVID-19 hit. Thinking outside the box, the team were able to
find new ways to provide fresh food – and a friendly face – to those in need. All thanks to StreetSmart.

Founded by Adam Robinson in 2003, StreetSmart works to break down prejudices about people experiencing tough times. Coming to grips with the
issues facing our community, StreetSmart started cooking up ideas on how to get involved.

“Organisations were worried about food insecurity, with many food outlets for people experiencing homelessness closing their doors,” says Adam.

“We wanted to make an impact straight away.”

With many venues closing their doors due to COVID-19 restrictions, the StreetSmart team saw an opportunity. “We realised there were empty kitchens with people willing to cook, and other people who still needed to eat,” says Adam. “So we paired them up.”

StreetSmart connected the local venues to the Hartley’s kitchen, where they prepared meals for people who needed it most. “We just want
people to feel safe, supported and have access to food all year round,” says Adam.

Joining forces with StreetSmart, we now offer tasty, takeaway meals to people facing food insecurity – every day.

Meals Program Coordinator, Sara Loots says StreetSmart’s support – worth over $90,000 – was invaluable in keeping doors open. “It was a big relief for people who don’t know where their next meal will come from,” says Sara.

To keep bellies full – and spirits bright – over Christmas, StreetSmart gave an additional grant of $6,500 to the program. “We normally close for 2 weeks over Christmas,” says Sara, “but thanks to StreetSmart, we were able to keep supplying meals to people who rely on them.”

Our team at Hartley’s has served up meals to people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donate Now to support services like Hartley’s.

Uniting Vic.Tas recommends to Parliament improved support for those affected by forced adoptions

Better support to re-connect families separated by forced adoptions, improving access to historical records and information and better counselling and psychological support are among the recommendations Uniting Vic.Tas made to a Victorian Parliamentary hearing into historical forced adoptions.

The recommendations were made as part of a submission by Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike and Uniting Heritage Service manager Catriona Milne to the Victorian Government’s Historical Forced Adoptions in Victoria Inquiry hearings in Melbourne on Wednesday 24 February.

The inquiry is hearing how individuals and organisations, such as Uniting Vic.Tas, have responded to historical forced adoptions and the support being provided by organisations to both those who were adopted and to their families.

Uniting Vic.Tas takes the issue of forced adoption very seriously and we acknowledge they caused significant grief, pain and trauma over many years.

We are committed to ensuring every person who was adopted and their families have full and complete access to their records and information from that time and to provide all the support they need through this often difficult and very emotional process.

We fully support the Inquiry as an opportunity for everyone to better understand the enduring and long-lasting impacts of forced adoption and the ways support services and responses to forced adoptions can be further strengthened.

As part of our submission, we told the Inquiry about our Uniting Heritage Service, which provides support to people, who as children, spent time in out-of-home care, foster care or who went through adoption through the former Presbyterian, Methodist and Uniting churches and our predecessor organisations.

The Uniting Heritage Service has become a national leader in providing both those who went through forced adoptions and their families with access to their information and records and providing them with support and care.

Through this free service families can access historical information, photos, records and documents dating back to 1890.

As part of our submission to the Inquiry, we also commended the Victorian Government’s 2012 apology to people affected by forced adoptions in Victoria.

See more information on the Uniting Heritage Service.

Statement on Jobseeker Payment increase by Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has said today’s announcement of a $50 a fortnight rise to the Jobseeker payment combined with the end of Jobkeeper next month won’t prevent millions of Australians slipping further into poverty.

“It (the payment increase) just doesn’t go far enough – it’s a missed opportunity.”

“Today’s announcement by the Government is a long overdue acknowledgement $40 a day is nowhere near enough for people to live on, but this token increase will do very little to ease the suffering.

“What the Government has announced is just under $3.60 increase per day, less than a cup of coffee. How is this supposed to help people put food on the table or with the cost of putting petrol in the car to go to a job interview.

“We’re still extremely concerned millions of people will fall deeper into poverty from which many will struggle to escape. Families are under enormous stress and we’ve seen huge increases in demand for support for everything from food parcels to help paying the rent or bills and people really struggling with their mental health.

“The Jobseeker payment is not a handout, it’s about decency and giving people a basic standard of living. Nobody should have to make a choice between paying the electricity bill or school fees and buying necessities like food or medicine.

“We’re also disappointed the Government has yet to deliver a proper jobs plan outlining how it will help businesses create jobs and give hope to the millions of Australians who are either unemployed or underemployed.”

“We joined the Raise the Rate campaign to ensure the Jobseeker COVID supplement of $150 a fortnight was maintained and we firmly believe this is the minimum level of support people need to help rebuild their lives, get a job and get back on track.”

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

Over 20 years of service

For two decades, Maidie has been a pillar of strength and support for people facing crisis and homelessness.

Maidie has always been passionate about helping people in need. She began her career as a locum crisis worker in 1996 and continued on to work in disability services before moving into crisis and homelessness services.  Today, Maidie is the Manager of Uniting Crisis and Homelessness Services in Ringwood and Footscray.

Despite the challenging nature of the work, she is committed to supporting people in their darkest times and guiding them toward brighter days.

“We’re here to talk to people about their options and how we can support themto follow through on those options to work towards a better future,” Maidie said.

“We give people a lot of information about what the reality of their situation is. It’s really important to give people an accurate picture of how things are, but also empathise with the situation they are in.”

Maidie is quick to point out that a lack of affordable housing is leaving more and more individuals and families on the brink of homelessness. The biggest change she’s seen in her career is the increased cost of renting.

“Property values have gone up significantly, which is great if you own property, but it’s not if you’re renting. A lot of people are paying a large proportion of their income in rent, which makes it really hard to survive,” she said.

Maidie speaks to the passion and commitment of her colleagues as the reason why she enjoys working at Uniting.

“We’re lucky to have a really good team here, with a broad range of skills and experience. We work well together to provide the best outcomes for our consumers.”

The ‘huge backlog’ of people waiting for a public bed for drug and alcohol treatment in Victoria

Victorians with a drug or alcohol problem are struggling to access publicly-funded addiction treatment beds as waiting times blow out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beating dependency is often a two-step process: weaning off the substance at a residential withdrawal clinic, before learning how to live without it at a rehabilitation facility.

One of the state’s biggest residential withdrawal clinics, Uniting ReGen at Ivanhoe, in Melbourne’s north-east, currently has about 90 people on its waiting list. People are waiting up to two months to access the services.

“We’ve never had a waiting list this long,” ReGen’s manager Rose McCrohan said.

“What’s remarkable is that some of those people have not sought treatment before.”

Odyssey House, which with three sites is one of the largest residential rehabilitation services in the state, has almost 300 people waiting between six weeks and three months to get in.

COVID-19 has created severe challenges for the sector, as social distancing measures have coincided with greater demand for treatment.

“At the height of the pandemic, we had to cut back our bed numbers by about 40 to 50 per cent,” Odyssey’s chief executive Stefan Gruenert said.

“That just allowed people to have their own rooms and to maintain some distance when they were dining and all in the shared areas.”

Fleeting window of opportunity

While Odyssey House has since boosted the number of available beds, it has yet to return to full capacity.

“There’s still a huge backlog of people waiting to get in,” Dr Gruenert said.

But those seeking help cannot afford to wait too long.

“There has actually been a couple of people pass away while they’ve been on our waiting list which is not normal,” Ms McCrohan said.

“We don’t have the exact details as to why they passed away, however to have that happen a couple of times is abnormal.”

Recovered heroin addict Warren, who does not want his last name used for privacy reasons, warns the “moment of clarity” when someone decides to get help for drug and alcohol addiction can be fleeting.

“We get in enough pain and the window opens where we go OK, I need help,” Warren said.

“But then when we get told ‘oh you’ve got to wait six weeks, and not only that you need to continue to call us so we know you’re still interested in the bed’, you know the window closes again.”

Demand expected to surge as restrictions ease

To make matters worse, the sector is bracing for a possible surge in demand early this year from people who simply cannot wait any longer to get help for their addiction.

“There’s a whole bunch of people out there that during COVID didn’t go anywhere, they weren’t going to seek any help and they weren’t visiting anybody,” the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association’s executive officer Sam Biondo said.

“That’s what I call suppressed demand, they feel comfortable now.”

The pandemic has also exacerbated a long-term shortage of publicly-funded drug and alcohol treatment beds in Victoria.

“Victoria traditionally has had probably the second-lowest number of available residential beds in the country, second to South Australia,” Mr Biondo said.

“Per capita the State Government has sought to increase the number of beds, however, social distancing and COVID has probably knocked a large part of that capacity out of circulation.”

The Victorian Government said the number of residential rehabilitation beds in the state would have doubled by July this year to 492.

It said it would work with the sector to address any concerns.

“The impacts of coronavirus on the alcohol and drug rehabilitation system are continuing to be monitored,” a spokesperson said.

“We’ve invested $52.1 million in new residential rehabilitation facilities in the Gippsland, Hume and Barwon regions — the new facilities will provide care and support to an additional 900 Victorians every year.”

First published on ABC News. By James Hancock

Supporting children and Young people in times of crisis

Rapid assessment and theory of change

In January 2020, Australia faced an unprecedented national crisis, as bushfires tore through bushland and rural communities across the country. In Victoria, the area of Gippsland in the east of the state was the most affected. The protracted nature of this crisis created circumstances that had never previously been experienced by communities or government response and relief agencies.

In Australia, and internationally, disasters disproportionately impact on children and youth. Children are unlikely to have cognitive capacities and emotional maturity to effectively manage challenges from disaster, and exposure to disasters increase their risk of serious and long-term consequences for social, psychological, emotional, cognitive and physical development. For young people, crisis situations can also accelerate or even skip the transition of adolescence into adulthood.

Uniting Vic.Tas (Uniting) has a long history of service provision within East Gippsland focused on children, young people and their families. A shared interest in the rights, participation and wellbeing of children and young people in bushfire recovery efforts brought Uniting and Plan International Australia together to partner on this project.

Plan International Australia strives to advance children’s rights and equality for girls all over the world. As an independent development and humanitarian organisation, PIA work alongside children, young people, supporters and partners to tackle the root causes of the challenges facing children, especially girls. PIA also support communities affected by natural disasters or emergencies.

The resulting resources will help inform current bushfire recovery efforts and future planning for disaster preparedness including:

  1. An Executive Summary to provide an overview of key findings.
    Download Executive Summary
  2. A Rapid Assessment and mapping of the current situation for children and young people across the developmental ages in bushfire-affected communities in Victoria
    Download Rapid Assessment
    Download Appendices
  3. A Theory of Change to provide a conceptual framework to help plan and action our contribution to the immediate and longer-term recovery of children and young people
    Download Theory of Change

We are keen to share what we have learnt and collaborate across bushfire-affected communities and related services. If you would like more information or to engage with us, please email: [email protected] or call 03 5144 9386.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO calls on government to support people on JobSeeker

Tomorrow will see the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement reduced significantly. Like many others working with people at the margins of our society, we at Uniting are deeply concerned about the effect this reduction will have. We are already seeing vastly increased numbers of people coming to us for help simply to put food on their tables. As this reduction comes into effect, we are preparing for even more demand at our emergency relief services.

In this most difficult of years, one bright spot was the recognition by the government at the beginning of the pandemic that JobSeeker was not enough. The coronavirus supplement was a welcome relief to many. And all the money invested in supporting people without jobs flowed back into the economy, as they spent it on the basics.

We are all hoping for more from 2021. I call on the government to reverse this decision and provide a safety net that actually keeps people out of poverty, rather than condemning them to it for longer.

16 Days of Activism

Over the next 16 days we’re joining the global movement to raise awareness of and take action against gender-based violence as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign.

Running from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November through to World Human Rights Day on 10 December, this campaign calls for action against one of the world’s most persistent violations of human rights.

Gender-based violence is a major health and welfare issue in Australia.

It is a leading cause of issues that we see across our services such as poverty, homelessness, and physical and mental health problems.

We know that we can’t wait for change to happen elsewhere. We have to be part of that change. At Uniting Vic.Tas:

  • We stand against gender discrimination in any form
  • Our workplaces behaviours are respectful. Any of our people subjected to harassment and abuse are supported
  • Our people feel safe when reporting inappropriate behaviours that they have experienced or witnessed
  • Women are given equal opportunity to advance their careers and take on leadership roles
  • We provide flexible, family-friendly working arrangements wherever possible
  • We offer paid family and domestic violence leave for all employees
  • Our Heritage Service supports care-leavers who were raised in the out-of-home care services provided by the Uniting Church in Victoria.

You can read more on our website about our advocacy to prevent gender-based violence.

To follow our 16 Days of Activism coverage follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Peter loses everything in bushfire

Last summer, Australia faced an unprecedented national crisis as bushfires devastated our country.

The impact of these bushfires is still deeply felt – and will be for years to come.
Some lost their belongings; some lost their homes. Others tragically lost their loved ones.

For these people, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder to get back on their feet.

Peter was forced to flee as the bushfires blazed through his Gippsland community.

His life-long home was destroyed, along with his sheds and his equipment. He also lost a third of his sheep and cattle in the inferno.

“I can replace all of the equipment. It’s the things that belonged to my grandparents and great grandparents – things from the 1800s. They just can’t be replaced,” says Peter.

His memories and belongings were gone. His security and source of income had turned to ash.

In the weeks following the fire, Peter stayed with his daughter. But, with a 3-hour commute to check on his surviving sheep and cattle, Peter knew he couldn’t stay there for long.

“It was a long drive,” says Peter, who is in his 70s. “It was starting to take a toll.”

Thankfully, a neighbouring property owner reached out. Peter was offered a self-contained shed to sleep in while his home – and his life – is rebuilt.

As we head into the bushfire season once again, the need for long-term support still remains great as people rebuild their lives.

Our team worked with Peter to understand what he needed to re-establish a sense of home and belonging. For Peter, it was a lounge chair, a coffee table and a table and chair to eat his meals.

We were able to help people like Peter because we’ve been part of the Gippsland community for the last 41 years as well as many other regional and remote areas across Victoria and Tasmania.

“I can’t thank people enough for their generosity. I feel very humbled,” says Peter.

With family, friends and Uniting by his side, Peter is celebrating Christmas with a grateful heart.

“It’ll just be good to be around family,” Peter says.

“It’s been a year to remember for all of the wrong reasons, but at least we’re still here.”

We want to be there for people like Peter, offering support and services in times of need. We can only achieve this with your help. Your donation is urgently needed for people like Peter, hit hardest by 2020.

Donate now

Sonia’s health worries

Thousands of Victorians and Tasmanians have found themselves at risk as a result of COVID-19. This Christmas, your generous donation will bring hope to those who need it most.

We’ve all felt the pressure of the pandemic. But for our community’s most vulnerable, the struggle has been more serious.

For people like Sonia, it’s not just about lockdown – it’s about life and death. Give hope a future this Christmas.

Diagnosed with diabetes at the tender age of 16, Sonia has spent her life in and out of doctors’ rooms, adjusting to life with a chronic illness.

Though she managed her condition well, Sonia’s health took a turn for the worse in her early fifties. To her shock and dismay, she was forced to start dialysis in 2018.

The gruelling cycle of treatment was devastating. Spending 3 days a week anchored to the hospital, Sonia grieved for her old way of life. She missed spending time with her husband, Reg, and was unable to continue as primary carer for her daughter, Emily.

She worried life would never be the same again. But, after 5 months of dialysis, in December Sonia was given a Christmas gift to remember: a healthy kidney.

“I got the call to say a kidney was available,” says Sonia. “I flew from Hobart to Melbourne that night and underwent a (kidney) transplant the next day. It all happened very quickly, but I’m so grateful it did.”

Uniting was there for Sonia throughout the transplant process, accompanying her and her family on their journey to recovery. We made sure they had food in the fridge, presents at Christmas, and financial relief when the bills piled up.

With renewed confidence, and a new kidney, Sonia finally felt free to embrace her fresh start and plan for the future.

Little did she know, her dreams were about to be derailed – again.

When the pandemic reached Australia, Sonia was scared.

“I was petrified because I knew if I got (COVID-19), I wouldn’t survive,” she says. “I don’t have an immune system to fight it off.”

Everything she had fought for was at stake: her health, her freedom and her future.

After years of working for a fresh start, Sonia felt trapped. She couldn’t meet with others, she couldn’t go outside – she couldn’t even care for her daughter the way she used to.

Frightened for her life and scared for her family, Sonia’s stress levels began to soar.

As COVID-19 restrictions were introduced, Sonia and her family began to leave their home only for essential appointments.

When they braved the outside world, the family wore full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – attracting attention and abuse.

“It was painful and uncomfortable. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” – Sonia.

“It was horrible. People thought I was being over-the-top by wearing a mask and gloves,” says Sonia.

“But I had no other choice. I needed to protect myself.” Sonia did everything she could to keep herself safe. But there was no escaping the pandemic’s impact on her family. Between balancing the bills, managing Emily’s care, and monitoring the ever-looming threat of infection, Sonia had never been so stressed.

She knew she needed help. Now, more than ever before.

Now, Sonia feels safe and secure, knowing Uniting is there for her when times get tough.

“I try not to rely on them too often, but Uniting have always been there when we’ve needed it,” Sonia recalls. “They’ve helped pay our electricity and phone bill, given us fresh food or food vouchers, and even vouchers to buy Christmas presents for Emily.”

Thanks to the support of Uniting, Sonia always has a safety net for uncertain times.

Whether it’s a listening ear, or financial relief, Sonia is free to focus on the important things in life – knowing we’re with her, every step of the way.

“Uniting has helped our family in so many ways – we’re really grateful.”

You can bring new hope to a family like Sonia’s this Christmas. Together, we work alongside people in crisis. Will you make a donation today and support vulnerable people into stability?

Donate now

St Leonard’s Brighton Beach Uniting Church create recipe for success

In 2017, Barry Schofield came up with the perfect recipe to shake up St Leonard’s Brighton Beach Uniting Church Pancake Day fundraising activities.

Barry was watching a news story about people sleeping rough at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne and noticed an interviewee was holding a cup of coffee.

“It made me think that if 100 people saved the cost of a cup of coffee each week, it would quickly add up to a sizeable amount,” says Barry.

From there, Barry and Church minister, Rev Kim Cain developed a plan.

From International Coffee Day on 1 October, they asked congregation members to accept a coffee mug and take on ‘The Coffee Mug Challenge.’

Each participant made a commitment to put $4 each week in their mug for 20 weeks, until Shrove Tuesday – or Pancake Day as it’s commonly known.

During the Sunday Church service prior to Pancake Day, congregation members placed the funds from their coffee mugs in a bowl at the front of the Church.

Participants were then treated to coffee and pancakes.

Close to $11,000 was raised in the first year of the challenge.

Since then, St Leonard’s Brighton Beach Uniting Church has raised over $35,000 for people in crisis.

Get involved now

Airport West Uniting Church takes on Coffee Cup Challenge

Airport West Uniting Church joined the Coffee Cup Challenge for the first time in 2019.

“I have friends who attend St Leonard’s Brighton Beach Uniting Church and they spoke about the Coffee Cup Challenge with great enthusiasm,” says Airport West Uniting Church congregation member, Valerie Thompson.

“I was inspired to put the idea to our congregation, who accepted the challenge with open arms.”

On Sunday 23 February, 2 days prior to Pancake Day this year, Coffee Cup Challenge participants attended a special service and came forward to place their contributions into one large basket.

Over $4,200 was raised to help some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our communities.

“This was a very humbling and emotional experience for all who took part, knowing that their money would be put to good use,” says Valerie.

“We were blown away by the generosity of everyone who took part.

“Everyone then enjoyed pancakes, which were served for morning tea to say thank you.

“It was immediately decided that we would take part in the Coffee Cup Challenge again in 2020/21.”

Get involved now

Helping children to thrive

When a friend suggested becoming a foster carer, Jill jumped at the idea.

“I was single, I had a spare bedroom and I was working part-time. I felt like I was in a good position to become a foster carer,” says Jill.

“That was over 4 years ago now and I’m so glad I took her advice.”

Jill started her foster care journey as a respite carer.

During that time, 2 young siblings were regularly placed in her care following a number of placement breakdowns.

“I was the go-to person when things went wrong and over time I formed a close bond with them,” says Jill.

In March 2019, the young boy and girl were placed into Jill’s care for a short-term placement.

Then 6 months later, Jill decided to take the siblings in on a long-term basis.

“My family have been very supportive, and the children are part of our family now,” says Jill.

“I couldn’t imagine life without them here. We’re a good little team.”

Jill recently moved to a new house so the children could have a backyard and more space to play.

Jill says there have been plenty of challenges along the way. But the bond she has developed with the children has helped overcome any obstacles.

“Because you don’t know the trauma that they’ve been through, you don’t know what could be a trigger for them,” says Jill.

“But the most important thing is to make them feel safe and secure.

“Every child deserves the chance to have a normal childhood and if you have the time and love to give them, that’s all they need.”

Please note, the photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the people featured in this story.

A million steps for mental health

On Saturday 12 September 2020, 600 firefighters and other emergency service personnel would have stepped up to fight depression, post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) and suicide by climbing the 28 floors of Crown Metropol hotel wearing 25kgs of turnout gear and breathing apparatus.

Due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb has taken a new approach.

This year the climb has gone virtual and you can get involved.

From now until World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10 October you can start climbing, whether it be your back steps, the stairs at your local park or even a milk crate in the lounge room.

Latest figures show 3,046 Australians lose their lives to suicide each year, so we are asking you to climb at least 3,046 steps over the next month.

Collectively we can climb a million steps for mental health and make a difference.

The campaign will raise money for the Melbourne Lifeline service, which is operated by Uniting Vic.Tas, the Black Dog Institute and the 000 Foundation.

The stair climb aims to raise $500,000 to improve support services, fund research, remove stigmas and raise awareness of mental health issues like depression, PTSI and suicide.

It costs $50 to register.

For more information or to register, visit www.firefighterclimb.org.au

Providing a home away from home

Geordie and Matt have long been a loving aunty and uncle to their nieces and nephews.

So when the couple started foster caring in 2019, that love was extended to children in need in their local community.

The couple decided to become respite carers after Geordie’s friend, who works for Uniting, suggested they look into it.

“We had thought about it a few years earlier but never did anything about it,” says Matt.

“We decided not to take on long-term care because we both work full time. We decided respite care would be better suited to us.”

The couple now open their home to 2 girls when they require respite from their respective families.

“They stay for weekends here and there. It’s nice to be able to give them a home away from home,” says Geordie.

“Before (COVID-19) restrictions, we’d go for day trips. We cook, watch movies, play games and make sure they have a good break and some fun while they’re here.

“It’s been challenging at times because we don’t have children of our own and children today have different challenges than we did as kids.

“Thankfully we have great support around us from family and friends, and we’ve received strong support from Uniting,” adds Geordie.

The couple found there was an adjustment period to being foster carers.

“Geordie and I have been together for 15 years, so it’s been challenging getting used to having other people in the house,” says Matt.

“But on the flip side, we’ve formed a close bond with the girls and that’s been really rewarding.”

They agree on the one piece of advice they’d give to new respite carers.

“Do it for the right reasons. You’re there to help them on their way, but you’re not their parents,” says Matt.

“You’re a small part of their life and hopefully you can be a calming influence,” adds Geordie.

“I’m glad we decided to give it a go. It’s certainly been worthwhile.”

Respite carers provide vital break

Respite carers give full-time foster carers or birth families at risk of breakdown a vital break from their responsibilities.

As a former teacher, Bec knows the importance of this time-out.

The Natimuk resident has been a foster carer with Uniting for 3 years.

“A friend of mine was caring for a young girl and she mentioned that I should look into emergency and respite care,” says Bec.

“I’ve worked with children most of my life as a teacher and in various other roles.

“I’ve made the choice not to have children of my own because I enjoy my independence, but I’ve always enjoyed being around children.”

Throughout her foster care journey, Bec has cared for nearly 20 children.

“Every couple of months I’ll take in a child or sibling group for a weekend or a week at a time,” she says.

“It’s a good fit for me because I like to do my own thing, but I don’t mind putting that on hold when I have the children in my care, because it’s so worthwhile.

“Plus, I’ve been able to take some of the kids out camping and hiking, which has been fun.”

Bec says one on the benefits of foster caring is building new social connections and strengthening ties with friends who have children.

“It can be challenging and it’s important to have a good support network of family and friends around you when things get tough,” she says.

“But it’s also really rewarding.

“I remember caring for siblings for a weekend and a few months later they came back into my care and when they got out of the car, they were so excited to see me. That was a really lovely feeling.”

A personal connection leads Ben to foster caring

Being a foster carer has a deep personal connection for Ben.

“One of the reasons I decided to go down this path is because my mum was in care when she was younger,” say Ben.

“For me, this is a way of giving back. If someone didn’t look after mum when she was younger, I wouldn’t be here.”

Ben and his partner have been foster carers with Uniting for 8 years.

The same sex couple started offering respite care for children and in 2019 decided to take on a long-term placement.

“We’ve always had an inherent need to help people when we can,” says Ben.

“Being able to offer respite care to children who need it was a great experience, but we knew we had more to give.

“For the past 18 months we’ve had a young boy in our care. It’s been challenging at times, but extremely rewarding.

“When he arrived, he was struggling to read and was falling behind his peers.

“But he has improved out of sight over the past 18 months. It’s been wonderful to watch his progress and to be able to help where we can.”

Ben says the couple have found it challenging trying to understand why certain behaviours occur, without knowing what has happened in the little boy’s past.

“You learn to be patient and understanding,” says Ben.

“We try the best we can to put ourselves in his shoes.

“And it’s about building trust so he’s comfortable to open up when he needs to do so.

“These children need certainty, continuity and people who are committed to caring for them.”

Ben points out that foster caring isn’t easy, but the benefits far outweigh the difficulties.

“It took over six months, but I’ll always cherish the moment he gave me a hug for the first time,” says Ben.

“It’s those precious moments that make it so rewarding.”

Please note, the photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the people featured in this story.

A loving home for children in need

Stephanie and David decided to become foster carers while expecting their second child.

“I wanted to have a third child and David didn’t, so he said, ‘why don’t we help a child in need and give them a loving home’ and we took it from there,” says Stephanie.

“It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made.”

That was 5 years ago and since then, the couple have opened their home to many children who needed emergency and respite care.

“Each child had taught us something valuable and has helped us to grow as parents and carers,” says Stephanie.

“Our attitude with any of the children we’ve cared for is they are welcome to stay as long as they need to be here.”

In 2019 the couple started long-term care, taking in a 1-week old baby boy.

“We decided it was best for us to care for an infant, as they fit in with what we’re doing, instead of the other way around,” says Stephanie.

“Having a newborn is always challenging but it’s been wonderful caring for him.”

Stephanie says all of the children her family have cared for have a special place in her heart.

Stephanie recalls a young boy who was placed in their care early in their foster care journey.

“He was placed with us after his mother had a stroke shortly after he was born,” says Stephanie.

“It was actually a good experience for us and his mother, because we were in regular communication with her and she knew her little boy was being well looked after.

“Reunification is often the goal, so it was lovely to send him back to his mother, knowing we had the privilege of caring for him while his mother was unable to.”

Please note, the photo accompanying this story is for illustrative purposes only. It is not a photo of the people featured in this story.

Advocating for people big and small.

Early learning gets bold

It was a big win for Victorian families when free childcare was announced in April.  But at the same time, we received news of a 50% cut to our early learning funding.

This cut was supposed to be supplemented by the introduction of JobKeeper. However, government funding across Uniting meant we were ineligible for the scheme – putting over 20 centres at risk.

Joining forces with Uniting NSW.ACT and UnitingCare Australia, we lobbied for amendments to JobKeeper.

In addition to advocating to the ATO, early learning managers contacted Members of Parliament in their local areas.

“The frontline managers did a great job,” said Uniting External Relations Advisor, Jesse Dean. “It can be confronting to make those phone calls.”

This collective effort resulted in changes that allowed non-profits to exclude government income from revenue loss calculations. Uniting qualified for JobKeeper, saving over 20 centres and keeping doors open to families.

Donate now to support the most vulnerable in our communities.

Your generosity helps us plan for the future.

It’s thanks to our generous supporters that we can plan our programs and embrace the future.

If you give regularly, thank you for sustaining our services. Because of you, people who reach out to us for support can trust that we will be here when they need us most.

Meet the Wallaces

Howard and Bronwyn Wallace (pictured right) have been giving to Uniting since 1988 and became regular supporters in 2018.

A retired professor with the Uniting Church’s Centre for Theology and Ministry, Rev Wallace says careful consideration went into the decision.

“We receive a lot of requests from charitable organisations doing good work, deciding whom to support can be overwhelming.”

“We wanted to consolidate our giving with an organisation that has similar values to us and with whom we feel confident.

“Uniting does wonderful work in helping people when they need it most. We want to make sure that work is being supported in the long-term.”

The Wallaces found that their choice to have a regular contribution automatically deducted each month has made life that bit simpler.

“It’s the easiest way to go about donating,” said Rev Wallace. “It means our charitable giving isn’t reliant on sorting through the many requests we receive.”

Give regularly. Change lives.

A regular monthly donation is simple to set up and can be paused any time.

You’ll receive one consolidated tax-deductible receipt at the end of the financial year, minimising paper and postage.

For more information about becoming a regular supporter, get in touch with our team via email or call 1800 668 426.

Rebuilding after the bushfires.

You’re making a difference

Almost $60,000 worth of goods were donated to emergency essentials to people who had to evacuate.

These included:

  • Food, clothing, fuel vouchers
  • Toiletries and medication
  • Swags and air mattresses
  • Trauma therapy kits for children.

Showing kindness in a crisis

In the thick smoke of Victoria’s bushfires, a couple in their nineties were evacuated by air from Mallacoota to a motel in Sale.

With no time to pack, Philip and Marge* left home with just the clothes on their backs. Phil didn’t even have his trusty walking stick.

Our team in Gippsland were contacted by the motel the couple had been evacuated to, seeking assistance on their behalf.

“We were able to arrange medication for them at the local pharmacy,” says Di Fisher who heads up Uniting’s services in Gippsland.

“While their prescriptions were being filled, they were driven to the Uniting op shop and fitted with spare clothes. The team there shared a cuppa with the couple, listening to their story with care and compassion.”

They were also given a personal care package with toiletries and food supplies.

In a follow-up call, Phil and Marge assured us they were safe with family, where they stayed until they could return home. They were extremely grateful for the comfort, care and assistance we provided during a very stressful time.

Your generosity has helped us source more than $435,000 worth of goods and Domayne furniture (through our partnership with Good360) for people living in temporary accommodation who lost everything.

We’re also partnering with the Uniting Church to fund ongoing pastoral care for people who request it.

Finally, we’re working with Plan International – a charity experienced in providing disaster relief.

Plan are working pro-bono to develop a long-term strategy to support families that Uniting are working with in bushfire-affected communities.

Your donations, combined with government and corporate funding, will finance the delivery of our long-term recovery plan.

Donate now to the Spring Appeal, supporting people in crisis.

Warming hearts.

This year’s Spread the Warmth appeal saw hundreds of swags, blankets and winter woollies donated to families in crisis and people sleeping rough.

Cliff’s story

After the breakdown of his marriage, Cliff (pictured right) became one of the growing number of people to find himself homeless.

When his savings dried up, he could no longer afford fees on the caravan he rented near Ballarat. Trying to sign up for Centrelink payments, the 65-year-old was told he had to apply online.

“I struggled, because I’m not very good at using computers,” he says. “It was really daunting.”

“I’m lucky I found Uniting. I don’t know what I would have done without them.” Cliff now receives Centrelink payments and recently secured long-term housing.

“A big thank you to everyone who donated to the winter appeal,” said Adam Liversage who heads up Uniting’s housing and homelessness services in Ballarat.

“For someone sleeping rough, it can make the world of difference.”

In Tasmania it’s a similar story, where people have been sleeping on the doorstep of our NoBucks community meals building.

“We can’t keep up with demand at the moment,” said Charlotte Ryan. “It’s a very bleak picture. Having a swag, blankets, gloves and beanies can mean the difference between shivering through the night and getting a decent sleep.”

Donate now to support the most vulnerable in our community.

Uniting supporting Victorians experiencing bill stress

Debt to energy companies is one of the most common sources of financial stress raised with Uniting’s financial counsellors.

Matt Cairns, Uniting’s Energy and Financial Literacy Program Manager believes Victoria’s energy market is difficult to navigate at the best of times, but during COVID-19, more people are struggling to make ends meet.

“Their energy bills are increasing due to lockdown restrictions, working from home and home schooling, and households don’t know where to turn to for support.”

To respond to this, Uniting is partnering with the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Australian Energy Foundation to provide targeted advice and support to Victorians who need help with their energy bills.

The Energy Assistance and Brokerage Program will assist people struggling to meet their bill payments and find the best value energy deal for their home to keep their costs as low as possible in the future.

The support is available online and over-the-phone, so Victorians can access this support from home. Support is available in languages including Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi and Vietnamese. For support call 1800 830 029.

Announcing this new funding, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said “We know that staying at home is putting more pressure on household bills. These programs make sure that anyone who needs extra help with their energy bills, gets it.”

Victorian Premier media release

Story in the Age

Uniting together to help feed Melbourne’s homeless

We have joined forces with Fareshare, Rotary Prahran, Pinchapoo, Coles and Launch Housing to provide packaged meals and toiletries to those doing it tough during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every Friday, we work with our partners to prepare and deliver 220 food and personal care packs to homeless people currently in temporary accommodation in inner city motels across Melbourne.

The weekly packs include frozen meals and breakfast cereals as well as information on our local emergency relief and our Hartley’s community dining room, which provides hot meals daily and breakfast throughout winter to people.

Uniting’s Community Services Manager in Prahran Michael Scott said the packs are designed to provide people with the basics they need to get through the weekend.

“We’re living through a time of great uncertainty and many people are really struggling, but if you’re living on the streets and don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you’re constantly in survival mode,” Mr Scott said.

“Eating breakfast when we wake up in the morning or sitting down to a hot meal on a cold winter’s night is something most of us take for granted.

“Many people who are homeless also suffer from chronic illness and winter often makes these problems worse and the opportunity to have a hot, nutritious meal can make such a big difference. The meals we provide might be the only ones they have all day.”

“We couldn’t do this without the generousity of FareShare who have been providing the meals, Pinchapoo for supplying the personal care packs and volunteers from Rotary Prahran doing the deliveries – we are very thankful for their support and generousity.”

Ensuring everybody has a place to call home

A warm bed and a safe and secure roof over our head is something many of us take for granted.

On any given night, more than 120,000 people around Australia are homeless, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

As part of Homelessness Week, between 3 – 8 August 2020, we’re joining forces with organisations across the country to raise awareness of people at risk of, or currently experiencing homelessness, and call for a better future.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said affordable, safe and secure housing is an essential human right and encouraged people to take part in the ‘Everybody’s Home’ campaign.

“People who come to us for support consistently tell us that a lack of affordable housing directly affects their ability to better their circumstances and look forward to a positive future,” Ms Pike said.

“There is strong evidence from around the world that focusing on providing safe, secure and permanent housing for people in crisis works, so it has to be our priority.

“Housing is a key factor in helping get a person’s life on track and once it’s secured, other complex needs can be addressed such as employment, mental health or alcohol and drug problems.

“Coronavirus and last summer’s bushfires again demonstrated the importance having a home is to health, wellbeing and a sense of security and that’s why need more investment in social housing.”

You can show your support by signing the Everybody’s Home petition by visiting the Everybody’s Home website or join the conversation on social media using #HW2020.

Homeless package must not forget the ‘hidden homeless’

Uniting Vic.Tas has welcomed the Victorian Government’s new $150 million from Homelessness to a Home package and called for a greater focus on homelessness in regional Victoria.

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike said the package would provide a long-term future for those people being housed in temporary accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic, but government also needed to tackle the ‘hidden homelessness’ epidemic in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and in regional Victoria.

“We often associate the idea of homelessness as somebody who is sleeping rough on the streets of Melbourne, but that’s only a small part of the problem,” Ms Pike said.

“In our outer suburbs and in cities and small towns across regional Victoria, there are people not only sleeping rough, but couch surfing, or living in emergency or temporary accommodation, sometimes as a result of family violence.

“We would want to see some of this funding package helping those who are living in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and in regional areas who don’t have the safety and security of a stable home.”

The Government has announced it will extend current hotel accommodation until at least April next year while 2,000 homeless people are supported to access stable, long term housing.

The government will also arrange to lease 1,100 properties from the private rental market, providing accommodation for people once they leave emergency accommodation, provide flexible support packages and extra funding for the Private Rental Assistance Program.

Ms Pike said the announcement showed homelessness was not an intractable problem and more could be done to help people in crisis.

“Housing is a key factor in helping get a person’s life on track and once it’s secured, other complex needs can be addressed such as employment, mental health or alcohol and drug problems,” she said

“Ending homelessness for good has to be our priority. That means even more investment from both State and Federal Governments in social housing, making housing more affordable and improving support for vulnerable people so they don’t slip through the cracks.”

Uniting Vic.Tas supports Disability Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is inquiring into all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability in all settings and contexts.

Uniting Vic.Tas welcomes the ongoing work of the Disability Royal Commission. We are fully committed to responding to any requests for information in an active and transparent manner.

The Commission provides an opportunity for us to work together with people with disability to create a society that is more inclusive and respectful of difference and one where all people are valued and honoured.

As a provider of disability services, we look forward to making a contribution to the national conversation about the future of disability care.

People can contribute to the Disability Royal Commission in several ways including making a submission, requesting a private session and responding to Issues Papers.

Submissions can be made online or via email, telephone or post.

The Australian Government is funding legal advisory, counselling and advocacy services for people who need support to be involved in the Disability Royal Commission.

More information, including links to submission forms in Auslan and Easy Read formats can be found on the Disability Royal Commission website

You can also read about the Uniting Church Values Statement – Disability Royal Commission

For media enquiries, please contact Antonia Mochan at  [email protected]

Jobseeker changes risk millions slipping back into poverty

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike said the federal government’s decision to cut the JobSeeker payment and end the coronavirus supplement by the end of the year will force millions of Australians – including at least 1 million children – below the poverty line.

Ms Pike, who is also Victorian Co-Chair of Anti-Poverty Week, said the government had missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help raise the standard of living for some of the most disadvantaged people.

“This crisis isn’t over. The full coronavirus supplement should be maintained until it could be replaced with a permanent, adequate payment,” she said.

“The decision to cut the supplement back to $250 a fortnight (from $550 a fortnight) from 25 September until 31 December means the JobSeeker payment could be back to disastrously low levels as early as January.

“It is also punitive to reimpose mutual obligation requirements to continue receiving the benefit at a time when there are so many people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. There are currently 13 jobseekers for every single job vacancy in Australia.

“JobSeeker was finally providing people with a basic standard of living, many for the first time. It is cruel to cut this payment when people need a sense of security and certainty during one of the most difficult and challenging times of our lives.

“We should never return to the pre-COVID JobSeeker rate of $40 a day. We have to support our most vulnerable, to give them hope, to give them opportunity and to give them dignity.”

Uniting Vic.Tas as a member of the Raise The Rate for Good campaign has been calling for an increase to JobSeeker that is commensurate with the current payment.

New general manager appointments

Uniting Vic.Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike has today announced two new appointments to the Executive Leadership Team. From 1 July, Amy Padgham is General Manager Quality & Compliance and Antonia Mochan is General Manager Community & External Relations.
 
Amy and Antonia have both been part of the ELT over the last few months, in Acting Head of roles for their respective areas. Together they bring considerable national and international experience across the community services, education and government sectors.
 
You can find more information about them and the whole Executive Leadership Team here

Uniting Statement of Support for the National Day of Action to Raise the Rate

The continuing COVID-19 health and economic crises have led to more people than ever before struggling to find paid work.

The Australian Government supported people without paid work by lifting JobSeeker and other income support payments, helping them cover the cost of the basics through the immediate crisis.

Now, as we confront what will be a long-term economic downturn, we cannot turn our back on those who are at risk of being left behind.

We cannot turn back to the brutality of people without paid work struggling to survive on the old Newstart rate of $40 per day.

This is not enough to live, let alone to cover the basics, including housing, food (especially fresh food), transport, bills, medical and health care needs.

That’s why we are calling for a permanent and adequate increase to JobSeeker, Youth Allowance and related payments to cover the basics, so everyone can put a roof over their head and food on the table.

We support the National Day of Action on July 14, where hundreds of communities will join together to call on the Australian Government to Raise the Rate For Good.

To get through this crisis, we need to have each other’s backs so that everyone has access to the basics to rebuild their lives.

Working together, We Can Support Each Other!
If you want to show your support sign the statement on the Raise the Rate website

New COVID-19 restrictions

This year continues to challenge every one of us. The coronavirus has completely changed the way we live, work and relate to our family and friends. And just when we were hopeful of things beginning to open up, the situation has taken another worrying turn.  

We are all going to experience these changing events in different ways.  Those living in metropolitan Melbourne face the prospect of another six weeks of ‘stay at home’ restrictions. People will have to severely limit their outings to essential trips only while parents could see a return to home schooling.

For people living in the border towns of Albury/Wodonga, Echuca/Moama, the Wimmera and far east Gippsland, it means not just coping with difficulties in accessing work and services but in some cases the separation of families.

While this is challenging for many people, the hardest hit tends to be the most vulnerable who may be facing the harshest restrictions with few resources to cope. 

Uniting Vic.Tas is still working hard to provide vital services to those who need them.

Our commitment to supporting vulnerable people in our community is as strong as ever.

Whether it’s delivering food hampers to people in need or providing support for people experiencing homelessness, alcohol and other drug recovery and mental health issues, our services are finding innovative ways to continue operating during this time.

And the breadth of our services means we can provide assistance in a number of areas. From a mother and children escaping family violence to people struggling to self-isolate without a stable place to call home, we work to provide housing and emergency relief, assistance paying bills, community meals and helping to get their lives on track.

We are all in this together so please reach out to us if you need support or know of someone in need of help.   

Take care and stay safe.

 

 

 

 

 

Bronwyn Pike
CEO Uniting Vic.Tas

Standing up for reconciliation and justice for all people.

Uniting Vic.Tas, together with national leaders of the Uniting Church and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, stands solemnly alongside protesters in the United States following the tragic death of African American man George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police.

We share their grief, outrage and frustration at the systemic racism that allows such incidents to happen again and again in the United States.

We should also be righting injustice at home.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are incarcerated at higher rates than any other group globally. Despite making up two per cent of the general adult population, First Nations Australians are 28 per cent of the prison population.

Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, over 430 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody.

We urgently need to address both the underlying socioeconomic factors that bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into contact with the justice system, as well as the systemic racism within our institutions.

Uniting is aware of the disadvantage faced by the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we work with every day.

The protests in the US, especially as they coincide with Reconciliation Week in Australia, provide an important opportunity to channel our anger and sadness into positive action.

For Uniting this means renewing our commitment to reconciliation with Australia’s First Nations people, advocating for self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, and calling out both direct and indirect racism wherever we see it.

We stand for reconciliation and justice for all people.

Matt’s story

This year’s Uniting Winter Share Appeal means more than ever before to so many people.

In these trying times, the face of vulnerability is changing.

Thousands of Victorians and Tasmanians are finding themselves unemployed for the first time and are already reaching out to Uniting services for support – and this is only the start.

One of those people is Matt.  He was clearly devastated when he arrived at Uniting Hobart. After 14 years in his job he was made redundant. Having full-time care of his young daughter and looking after his elderly mother makes this situation extremely challenging for him, as you can imagine.

For many of us, we’re adapting to these unfamiliar shifts in what we once considered our normal daily life. It’s hard to conceive how tough it must be to not only be in isolation and have lost your sense of self, but also to have suddenly lost the ability to care for the people that you cherish.

All people deserve to have a sense of wellbeing and this is only possible when we work alongside each other.

Update on Matt

28.08.20

Matt* shared his story in our recent Winter Share Appeal. The young Tassie dad was devastated when he was made redundant at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matt is in a much better mental health space than he was in April when he first reached out for emergency relief. He’s more comfortable accepting support from our team and has been approved for government benefits while he looks for work.

“Matt cares for his young daughter and elderly mother,” said program coordinator, Charlotte Ryan. “The little one has recently been diagnosed with epilepsy, which has been emotional.

“Matt’s welfare payments aren’t quite enough to cover the bills so we are supporting the family with the basics they need to get by.”

Thanks to your generosity, over $775,000 has been raised for the Winter Share Appeal.

*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.

Commitment to community drives Peter

Peter’s leadership skills were recognised early in his volunteering, when he took on the responsibility of managing the Uniting Op Shop in Hamlyn Heights.

He gave the store a facelift, boosted profits, then appointed and mentored a new volunteer to take on the manager’s role.

Peter’s biggest challenge came next, when he set up a new Op Shop from scratch.

When the hall at our welfare site in Norlane became vacant, Peter set about turning this space into an Op Shop and Community Hub.

Peter was determined to provide a facility for people in Norlane, Corio and surrounds to come together, particularly those experiencing social and economic vulnerability.

“I could see there was a need for a facility like this in the community,” says Peter.

“There are lots of really good people in the community and I just want to be able to help out.”

The Op Shop and Community Hub now operates six days a week and incorporates a safe and comfortable space for families to engage in activities or with one another over a cup of tea or coffee.

The children’s zone is also a big hit with parents and children alike.

“Peter quickly became an essential member of the Uniting in Barwon volunteer team, popular for his cheerful personality, sense of humour and problem-solving approach,” says Volunteer Coordinator, Elizabeth Hopkin.

“He has built a strong team of volunteers and supporters who are invested in helping to offer the residents of Norlane and Corio a positive, inclusive, friendly and fun Op Shop and Community Hub experience.”

Passion for recycling pays off

From day one of his volunteering role, Noel’s passion for the environment and recycling has been infectious.

“In the short time he has been volunteering with the Op Shop team in Bendigo, Noel has educated teams of volunteers on recycling practices, significantly reducing the amount of money spent on rubbish removal,” says Op Shop Coordinator, Mary-Anne Toner.

“Before Noel started volunteering, the removal of rubbish and unsellable goods was costing the organisation over $7000 a year.

“Today the bill is $0 for items that can be recycled, which in turn means more funds are provided to people who are experiencing crisis in the Bendigo region.”

Noel takes unsellable items to repurpose, restore or on-sell as scrap metal, ensuring they don’t end up in landfill.

Noel has not only saved Uniting thousands of dollars, he turns what used to be rubbish into a profit.

Noel saves all kinds of items from landfill, like stripping mattresses so the springs can be recycled.

His passion comes from over two decades of working in the recycling industry.

“I made a career out of recycling goods and I’m glad I’ve been able to continue that in my volunteering role,” says Noel.

“I enjoy (recycling) and it’s good to know the broader community benefits from the savings.”

At nearly 80-years-old, Noel shows no signs of slowing down.

Noel continues to visit the Op Shops at least four times a week and cleans up anything that he believes can be recycled.

Bruce a driving force for local youth

Bruce is an L2P mentor who is committed to ensuring young people are well equipped to get behind the wheel.

The L2P program supports young people who have been in out-of-home care gain independence by getting their licence.

Many young people who pass through the L2P program have endured traumatic childhoods, which can impact on their behaviour.

Bruce has overcome these obstacles, encouraging and supporting the young people he mentors to complete their 120 hours of driving practice and give them the skills they need to pass their driving test.

Bruce worked for ten years as a mechanic, before completing a Bachelor of Education.

This allowed him to spend 35 years as an automotive trade instructor at his local TAFE.

Now retired, he spends his time volunteering.

Prior to joining the L2P program, Bruce was involved in pre-driver education programs in the community, teaching theory and practical driving skills.

He enjoys sharing his extensive driving knowledge, and through his guidance and support, Bruce has been a positive influence in the lives of these young people.

“After I retired, I wanted to give back to my community, and this was a good way to do that,” says Bruce.

“I enjoy talking to the young people and being able to provide them with some stability. Sometimes I can work with them for up to 18 months in order to get their licence.

“It’s great to see their skills and confidence develop over time. And when they go on to get their licence, they’re over the moon.”

Bruce has been with the L2P program since October 2013, providing over 600 hours of mentoring to our learner drivers.

“The L2P program is really important, as for many of the youth who go through the program, it’s the first time they have sat and passed an exam,” says Bruce.

“It’s an important milestone for them and it’s a privilege to help them achieve it.”

Supporting parents in need

Home-Start volunteers provide invaluable mentoring and emotional support to other parents experiencing isolation.

“As many are parents themselves, our Home-Start volunteers lead by example in their words and actions and strive to be positive role models and mentors,” says program coordinator, Teresa Garland.

“The respectful and friendly approach each volunteer brings, and their willingness to share their own parenting experiences, allows them to quickly build trusting relationships with families.”

The feedback received from families has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It helps to know that someone reliable is visiting each week. I was able to talk to her very easily about any subject,” one Home-Start participant said.

Home-Start volunteers undergo an intensive training block over several weeks prior to commencing.

Their professional backgrounds are diverse, yet all have imagination, communicate effectively, and operate without judgement to ease the burden of socially isolated families.

“Every volunteer in the team has displayed an ability to relate to children of all ages, be creative in the use of their time, and offer friendship, mentoring and practical support where necessary,” says Teresa.

“The relationships forged during their engagement with the families are a tribute to the personal qualities of the team members.”

Our Home-Start volunteers visit each family weekly and are asked to make a commitment of up to 12 months.

Several volunteers are so passionate about the program and the positive impact they have seen it can have that they now mentor several families at a time.

Helping newly arrived families form connections

The Chinese Families Playgroup volunteers are dedicated to helping Asian migrant families to settle in their local community.

The volunteer team do this on a weekly basis with compassion and warmth, delivering a playgroup program so popular there’s a waitlist.

“The team regularly organise events for traditional Chinese cultural festivals and Australian celebrations,” says Chinese Family Services Coordinator, Joseph Jin.

“They have engaged professionals to visit to link Chinese families in with mainstream services to help them find their feet in their community.”

The volunteers facilitate the operation of weekly playgroup activities and support the participation of parents in the sessions.

Their work involves session planning, art and craft design, singing and storytelling.

They also set up the venue’s indoor and outdoor activities, assist parents and grandparents to supervise their children, and pack up at the close of each session.

The team are all Chinese speaking and include a mix of university students, parents and professionals.

The volunteer team delivers the playgroup program three times a week, all year round.

Some of the volunteers are full time students, yet they find a way to commit to this program and their community.

Others work during the week, so spend each Saturday contributing to the program.

Personal experience helps Anne make a difference

Anne is an integral part of the Hobart emergency relief team, providing practical and emotional support to individuals and families working towards a brighter future.

Anne spent 20 years working in the mental health field, inspired by her son’s diagnosis of schizophrenia at just 15-years-old.

After retiring in 2017, Anne knew she had more to give.

Anne worked with Uniting in Hobart during her career, running a support group for grandparents who had stepped in as the primary carers for their grandchildren.

“When my son was diagnosed, I wanted to step up and help other families going through similar circumstances,” says Anne.

“I like being able to help people who are going through a rough patch, often through no fault of their own.”

In the past year, we provided over 2500 emergency relief services to individuals and families in the greater Hobart area.

“Awful circumstances can happen to anyone. If you lose your job, go through a relationship breakdown or a workplace injury, it can all lead to financial difficulties,” says Anne.

“If I can put a smile on someone’s face and ensure they feel heard, even just for a few minutes, it can provide a little bit of time out from their troubles.”

Dynamic duo creates recipe for success

Anne and Viola have been volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre for a combined 30 years.

Their passion for working alongside people seeking asylum has led to the success of the weekly community dinner program at the centre.

The duo leads a group of consumers and volunteers to plan and cook a weekly community meal for up to 40 people.

Together they provide consumers with useful cooking techniques and ideas for making the most of fresh produce to help them prepare meals at home.

They are a dynamic team with an infectious enthusiasm and ability to bring people together, ensuring everyone can participate in the preparation of meals. This has created an inclusive and welcoming space for all.

The day begins by sorting donated food, then preparing the weekly meal.

In the kitchen, Anne and Viola ensure there is enough food to go around.

The pair also led the creation of the Share My Plate Again cookbook, featuring recipes shared by consumers from the program.

The pride and ownership of the cookbook came from the confidence consumers gained in the kitchen, thanks to the encouragement and support of these two women.

Anne, who travels from Geelong to Brunswick each week to volunteer at the centre, says she enjoys the friendships she has gained from the program.

“It’s lovely to meet new people and hear their stories,” says Anne.

“I enjoy working alongside a group of like-minded people. There’s a wonderful sense of team-work.

“Viola is lovely and such a hard worker. She gives a lot to her community.”

It’s a mutual admiration between the pair.

“Anne is very well respected by all, and she is very respectful to all,” says Viola.

“I enjoy working in the kitchen with Anne.

“It’s wonderful to see the clients in their element, sharing their cuisine. They cook, they eat, they laugh.”

ABC Goulburn Murray and Uniting’s Winter Blanket Appeal

Keep families warm this winter and enable Uniting to provide swags and blankets for people sleeping rough in the Goulburn Murray region.

$29 provides 1 x warm blanket
$58 provides 2 x warm blankets
$87 provides 3 x warm blankets
$115 provides 1 x swag
$460 provides a set of 4 swags

In past appeals, we have been able to accept used blankets but now because of COVID-19 concerns, we can only accept online donations or new blankets and doonas.

So the challenge is even greater this year during the pandemic to keep those who are most vulnerable in our community warm and sheltered during a cold, wet winter.

Please donate online or drop off new blankets at Uniting, corner Beechworth Road and Nilmar Avenue, Wodonga. Any donation will be gratefully received and will make a big difference.

ABC Goulburn Murray and Uniting’s Winter Blanket Appeal supports the 1,000 people who access Uniting’s Emergency Relief Services in Wodonga every month seeking nutritious food, financial assistance and other support.

 To donate online go to our gofundraise page

Thank you to ABC Goulburn Murray and WAW Credit Union for their support to help make the Winter Blanket Appeal a success, and help families and those sleeping rough stay warm this winter.

We are looking forward to rolling out Uniting’s Winter Blanket Appeal in other areas around Victoria and Tasmania soon.

Kindergartens are open and free for Term 2

Following advice from the Victorian Government, all Uniting kindergartens will open after the Easter break.

Given the current social distancing requirements, our kindergarten teachers have modified routines to minimise the risk of exposure to all children and have increased hygiene protocols at every service.

The Victorian Government has also announced it will provide free kindergarten for Term 2. This means any 4-year-old child (or 3-year-old with DET funded enrolment) attending a Uniting kindergarten will be able to attend at no cost to the family.

Jobkeeper leaves large early learning providers in the cold

Uniting Vic Tas, says the Federal Government’s childcare package will offer some relief to parents, but it won’t be enough to keep all childcare services open.

The Government has announced a 15 per cent turnover test will apply for charities registered with the ACNC to be eligible for the JobKeeper payment. Parliament is expected to vote on the legislation on Wednesday (April 8).

However, Uniting Vic Tas CEO Bronwyn Pike said the legislation in its current form would not be enough to save its early learning centres as the organisation remains ineligible for the payment.

“We need the JobKeeper legislation to test the 15 per cent fall in revenue separately for individual service providers, such as early learning centres, within larger not-for-organisations,” Ms Pike said.

“Early learning only makes up 14 per cent of the turnover of Uniting Vic Tas. We’re being disadvantaged because we’re a multiservice provider.”

“We‘re one of the few remaining early learning providers not benefiting from JobKeeper. The package is not an adequate solution for the sector if it doesn’t work for everyone.

“Not-for-profit providers like Uniting should get access to the funding the Government has put in place to keep childcare services open. We shouldn’t be disadvantaged due to our organisational structure.”

Uniting Vic Tas operates 58 early learning services across Victoria and Tasmania. Our childcare services employ 550 people caring for more than 2300 children.

Ms Pike said Uniting’ revenue from early learning centres had dropped dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Attendance at long day care has fallen by 36 per cent across our centres since the COVID-19 outbreak with one of our centres, recording a drop of 89 per cent,” she said.

“Yet, this isn’t enough to meet the JobKeeper test, which is applied to the whole organisation. So, even if we lose 100 per cent of our early learning revenue, we still won’t qualify.

“Without access to JobKeeper we’ll have no choice but to close some services, which would be the worst outcome for our hardworking staff and families who are relying on us during this extraordinary time.”

Message to all our consumers

Our absolute priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of our consumers, volunteers and employees.

I want to reassure you that at Uniting we are taking every effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) while continuing to support people that need us at this time.

We provide many essential services and are taking all steps to deliver these services safely, while continuing to support people that use those services.

We have a pandemic plan in place, which includes guidance for all our workforce. This guidance makes clear that they must follow government instructions at all times, specifically:

  • Following all hygiene instructions, regarding hand washing and using hand sanitiser
  • Not visiting anyone if the consumer or worker has any flu-like symptoms
  • Asking screening questions before going into anyone’s home
  • Maintaining physical distance of at least 1.5m to the extent possible to deliver the service
  • Finding ways to support that are not face-to-face unless absolutely necessary.

Where possible, we have moved to deliver services by phone or screen-to-screen.

Where we engage third party providers to deliver services (such as in-home care), we have taken steps to ensure their compliance with these instructions.

In our residential services, staff are undertaking daily deep cleaning and we also have 24/7 access to a professional cleaning service that can be used at any Uniting location that requests it.

As of today, we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among any of our workforce or consumers. We continue to track possible cases and exposures across our services. Wherever there has been a possible case or exposure, we have immediately enacted self-isolation procedures and taken steps to ensure that everyone who could have been in touch with that person has been informed directly, both of the potential exposure and of the negative test results.

We are closely monitoring all government announcements at state and federal level and adjusting our guidance to changing circumstances.

Many thanks for your support and understanding as we navigate through this difficult time.

 

 

 

 

 

Bronwyn Pike
Chief Executive Officer

Ensuring everyone has a place to call home

The rising cost of living and the lack of affordable housing has seen a growing number of people without a roof over their head. Uniting is working with the Victorian government and other community service organisations to provide practical support for people in crisis.

CHAnge project

Young people at risk in the Ballarat region are getting their lives back on track thanks to the CHAnge (Central Highlands Area nurture, grow, engage) program.

Through this program 16 to 23-year-olds at risk of homelessness can access stable housing. Dedicated youth workers provide advice on living independently, returning to education or finding stable jobs.

“We’re backing Ballarat youths and helping them turn their lives around by making sure they have the safety and security of a roof over their head,” Minister for Housing, Richard Wynne commented while visiting the project.

New homes in Bacchus Marsh

People with complex needs who may be sleeping rough in the Bacchus Marsh region now have access to stable accommodation.

Six new homes provide accommodation and tailored onsite support to meet the challenges faced by each person.

The houses are run by our Ballarat team in partnership with the state government, through its Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Plan.

These programs, and others like them, are possible thanks to your generous support.

Grampians youth find brighter futures

For over ten years, Karrung has offered housing and support to young people in the Grampians region.

Local youth are provided accommodation through the short stay program so they can focus on education, employment or training, while gaining the independent living skills they need to prevent homelessness.

For Bronte (pictured above), the program laid the foundation to build a brighter future.

Bronte moved into Karrung in March 2017 after escaping an abusive relationship.

Her two-year-old son, Noah, was cared for by Bronte’s mother while she got back on her feet.

“I was an empty shell when I arrived at Karrung. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, because I didn’t have my son with me,” Bronte said.

“The team were amazing. They gave me more than just somewhere to live. They gave me support during a really tough time in my life.”

Bronte lived at Karrung for just over a year.

During that time, she secured employment to become financially independent and worked with the Department of Health and Human

Services to regain full care of Noah. With the help of the Karrung team, Bronte secured a rental property to provide a safe home for her and Noah.

Bronte is now happily engaged and a mother of two, with her daughter Matilda born last year.

These programs, and others like them, are possible thanks to your generous support.

We’re still here for you.

Important notice for our consumers

We’re committed to providing essential services.

To do this in a way that will keep everyone safe and healthy, we need to make some changes.

We will provide our support and services by phone wherever possible. This will limit contact and contribute to slowing the spread of the disease.

We are following announcements from the government every day.

In the interest of everyone’s safety, please continue to follow this important health advice:

  • Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser.
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow or cover your mouth with disposable tissues. Throw the tissues away immediately and wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face and mouth after touching public surfaces.
  • Keeping about 1.5m in between yourself and others where possible.
  • If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, or feeling unwell, please stay at home and recover.

Find out more about alterations to services

COVID-19 Early Learning Services Update

Following the Victorian Government decision to start the first term school holidays early, all Uniting kindergartens will commence school holidays as of today, Monday 23 March from 5.00pm.

At this stage, we expect to re-open for Term 2 on Tuesday 14 April.

Families will be notified of any further changes via email and the information posted on our website and our Facebook page.

Additional information can also be found on the Department of Education and Training website.

We apologise for any inconvenience these changes may have caused and thank you for your understanding and support during this difficult time.

Kind regards,

Darren Youngs
Executive Officer, Early Learning

Homeshare SHOUT Week

It’s Homeshare SHOUT Week to raise awareness of homesharing and its benefits.

Homesharing matches people who need companionship and some practical help to live at home (householders) with people who need accommodation (homesharers).

Homesharers provide companionship, an overnight presence and up to ten hours of practical help per week instead of rent.

Homesharers provide their own food and a share of utility bills.

Uniting’s Homeshare Program has successfully matched many householders and homesharers, like Eileen* and Naomi*.

At nearly 80, Eileen didn’t like being at home alone at night.

After reading an article in the newspaper, Eileen decided to call the Uniting Homeshare team.

Eileen was matched with Naomi, an international student in her late twenties who had recently moved to Melbourne.

“I was very happy after the four-week trial, and Naomi has now been living here for two years,” says Eileen.

“During this time, we have shared many laughs.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better young lady to share with, and I feel empowered being able to have a more interesting lifestyle.”

“She is great company and very good at helping me with the internet,” adds Eileen.

Naomi has also enjoyed the experience.

“Eileen is very open minded and young at heart. She makes my life so much more interesting,” says Naomi.

“We always try to entice each other to try something new.”

“We have spent two Christmases together and my parents have also visited us twice. We get along really well.”

“I would highly recommend the Homeshare Program to anyone who is longing for a life changing adventure,” adds Naomi.

If this sounds like a good fit for you, find out more information here or call us on 1300 277 478.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

A message from Uniting Vic.Tas CEO, Bronwyn Pike

Like lots of other organisations, we are getting to grips with what COVID-19 means for us.

We operate hundreds of programs across two states, so it’s inevitable that somewhere, our services will be directly affected.

We are closely following all advice coming from state and federal governments.

We are cancelling all non-essential events that bring together people from different locations.

We are also looking into how we can keep open services that people rely on, such as emergency relief.

As this situation develops, we will likely have to make changes to some of our services or locations. If this will affect you directly, the local team will be in touch to let you know what the arrangements are. They are also the best people to go to if you have questions about your service.

We’ll keep monitoring the situation and following the advice coming from the authorities.

Our main message to everyone is to keep doing your bit to limit the spread of the virus. Wash your hands regularly and use sanitiser when you can. Avoid big groups. If you can, travel on public transport at off-peak times. Think about the people in your community that need more support at this time, such as those who are staying at home or that are more vulnerable to the virus.

Midsumma 2020

For the first time in our short history as a state-wide organisation, Uniting Vic.Tas was an official participant in the 2020 Midsumma Pride March in Melbourne in February.

More than 80 Uniting employees, volunteers, consumers and supporters joined thousands of others in a celebration of love and diversity. People made the trip from as far away as Horsham and Shepparton to join the festivities. Together, we marched under the motto “Fear less, love more”.

Pride March spectators picked up the chant as we took to the streets of St Kilda. Our “Freedom from discrimination is not freedom to discriminate” banners referenced our concerns about the Religious Discrimination Bill, and were also well received.

“The spectacular act of unity on display was testament to the strength of Victoria’s LGBTIQ+ community,”

says CEO, Bronwyn Pike

“The spectacular act of unity on display was testament to the strength of Victoria’s LGBTIQ+ community,” says CEO Bronwyn Pike.

She explained that being at Midsumma was a show of solidarity with Uniting colleagues and consumers.

A demonstration that Uniting services and environments are safe spaces to all in the rainbow community.

Rowena Stewart, Uniting Vic.Tas Early Learning Co-ordinator in Horsham, says participating in the march filled her with love and hope for the future. “As a Uniting employee and member of the LGBTIQ+ community, I was made to feel welcome,” she says, referencing walking alongside a number of fellow Uniting employees from across the state.

“I felt so at ease, being able to walk down Fitzroy Street and to see the many thousand members from the community come to support the day.”

The spirit of giving

Many people in our community, who find the festive season particularly hard, had a brighter Christmas thanks to you.

You responded to those in need with a sense of compassion and generosity through our fundraising initiatives.

Food For Families

The 70 tonnes of food and other essential items pledged through Food For Families provided some much-needed Christmas cheer for people in crisis. It has also gone some way to restocking our shelves so we can continue to provide food to those that come to us for assistance in 2020.

We received a record number of registrations, with almost 900 individuals, families, schools, workplaces, congregations and community groups participating.

An additional 250 food boxes were delivered to Uniting in January for our relief efforts in bushfire-affected communities.

“Donating food and other essentials is a practical way to help people going through a tough time.” – Eileen

Food For Families 2020

Register anytime at foodforfamilies.org.au to collect food as a family, individual, workplace, school, community group, church or sporting club.

When registering you can select to be a drop-off point where participants can deliver their food and toiletry items.

Christmas Share Appeal

Through our Christmas Share Appeal, your generosity helped raise over $380,000 to support families working towards a brighter future.

You were introduced to two families – Skye and her children, Ryda and Aylah, and new parents, Levi and Freya. We are thrilled to let you know that both families are doing well.

Aldous, (pictured above with his mum, Freya) is a healthy, blue-eyed baby with a full head of dark hair. The couple enjoyed their first Christmas as a family and Levi has returned to work to support them.

Meanwhile, Skye beamed with pride as Ryda set off for his first day of Grade Two. Skye continues to attend our programs, along with Aylah, to build her parenting skills.

Shout out to our top Food For Families collectors

Congregations

  • St Andrew’s Uniting Church
  • Ringwood Uniting Church
  • St John’s Toorak

Community groups

  • The Avenue Neighbourhood House
  • Mitcham Community House
  • Concept Blue residents

Individuals and families

  • Michelle Lovell
  • Jessica Cox
  • Eileen Rooney

Schools

  • Aspendale Gardens Primary
  • Gardenvale Primary
  • Templeton Primary

Workplaces

  • Swinburne University
  • 13cabs
  • IMCD AUSTRALIA

Thank you for helping us share joy and hope at Christmas.

Community connection keeps Virginia going

Virginia (pictured above with Paul Linossier and Bronwyn Pike) has been the heart and soul of our Sale Op Shop for 33 years and her service was recently recognised at our Melbourne Annual Public Meeting.

“I started volunteering in the shop a week after it opened,” Virginia says. “My husband was working away at the time and I had three young children, so it was a good way for me to get out of the house and socialise with others.

“My children and grandchildren have all grown up around the Op Shop – it’s part of my life.

“It’s been a wonderful journey that has kept me connected to my community.”

Her fellow volunteers helped Virginia through the tragedy of losing her daughter after a long battle with cancer last year.

“Everyone has been so kind, caring and understanding,” Virginia says. “I don’t know what I would have done without them. They were so supportive.”

The knowledge that funds raised through the shop go back into the local community and the joy of helping people find a bargain keep Virginia motivated.

Funds raised from the Sale Op Shop directly support our programs and services across Gippsland.

“I can’t believe it has been 33 years. It has gone by in the blink
of an eye.”

Become a volunteer
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer at your local Op Shop or any Uniting service, please send through an enquiry.

Jude Munro announced as new Board Chair

Jude Munro AO has today been announced as the new Board Chair of Uniting Vic.Tas.
“I’m delighted to have this opportunity to be part of an exciting future for Uniting Vic.Tas,” said Ms Munro.
“Its proud history of standing up for the vulnerable and marginalised is coupled with a bold and exciting vision for the future of community services.
“This is an organisation that can really make a difference.”
Jude Munro is currently the Chair of the Victorian Planning Authority and the Victorian Pride Centre as well as being a director of Metro Tasmania and Newcastle Airport.
She has a connection with the Uniting Church, serving on the Board of UnitingCare Queensland for six years, between 2010 and 2016.
Ms Munro will take up her position as Board Chair on 16 March.

Faith-based organisation do not support current religious discrimination bill

Leaders from Victoria’s most prominent faith-based and religious community service organisations have come together to urge the Federal Government not to implement the Religious Discrimination Bill as proposed.

Anglicare Victoria, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Jesuit Social Services Jewish Care Victoria, McAuley Community Services for Women, Mercy Connect, Sacred Heart Mission, and Uniting Vic. Tas have today joined to voice their concerns about the latest draft of the Religious Discriminations Bill and its potential to allow people and organisations to use faith as a means to cause harm to clients, customers, staff and volunteers.

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

We are proud of the work we do. We believe a divisive national conversation about whether people of faith should be able to discriminate against people of no, or different faiths, is not in the national interest. It is our view that religious freedom must be balanced against the rights of the people.

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.

We are concerned that the legislation will have unintended consequences, where
expressions of religious belief will be privileged above the rights and interests of other Australians in being free from discrimination.

The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill has the potential to create additional barriers for people in accessing medical services and housing, engaging in employment and participating in social and public life.

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

We do not support the Religious Discrimination Bill as it currently stands, as we do not believe it will benefit the Australian community.

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

Quote attributable to CEO Uniting Vic. Tas Bronwyn Pike
“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.”

Read our joint statement against the bill

For more information or media enquiries, please contact:

Uniting Vic. Tas
Antonia Mochan, Senior Manager, Advocacy and Communications
M: +61437 524 611 E: [email protected]

Supporting communities affected by bushfires

The bushfire events over the New Year have affected all of us deeply.

These are our communities. Many of us live and work there, have family in these areas, or have other personal connections. We have a long history together of building the capacity of individuals and families and being a source of support at difficult times, across Victoria and Tasmania and into New South Wales.

We are already part of the local community response in many areas, providing material aid in association with local partners through our existing emergency relief services. This disaster, like many before it, will take its toll on the most vulnerable in our communities. Not only are they selflessly supporting those directly affected. They will also have to deal with the compounding effects of disadvantage immediately and into the future.

The overall community response has been wonderful, but we are aware that there are gaps or unmet needs emerging in material aid. For example, it became clear over the weekend in Gippsland there were plenty of toiletries for women, but not the right things for men, and children and young people required underwear. To help cover these gaps, we have launched a Uniting Bushfire Appeal.

As these local needs will be very different across the fire-affected areas and will continue to change, we are encouraging people to donate money that we can then use to quickly respond to whatever is needed.

The impact of these bushfires and the devastation they have caused will be felt in these communities for years. We will be working locally in the coming weeks and months to understand how best we can support recovery in these communities once the immediate crisis is over. That is why our appeal is also calling for donations to support longer term relief and recovery efforts.

We are committed to working with communities to heal after these traumatic events. We will be there long after the cameras have moved on to the next issue, to make sure that people receive the support they need to recover, however long that takes.

 

 

 

Chief Executive Officer

[siteorigin_widget class=”SiteOrigin_Widget_Button_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]

Bushfires – Bairnsdale office closed

Due to the current bushfire emergency, the Uniting office in Bairnsdale is closed until further notice. Phones have been diverted to the Sale office on 03 5144 5177. Anyone with any questions about our services in East Gippsland should call that number.

UPDATE 13.01.2020 – The Bairnsdale office reopened today and is operating as usual.