FUNDING DESPAIR: $78K moved from Whitsunday centres
FEARS that struggling residents could be plunged further into disadvantage have prompted the leaders of Whitsunday relief organisations to speak out about a reallocation of emergency funding in the region.
Both the Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre and Whitsunday Counselling and Support have expressed their grave concerns that the needs of the region’s most vulnerable people will no longer be met after changes to emergency welfare funding.
Emergency funding to the value of $78,000 a year has been reallocated away from Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre and Whitsunday Counselling and Support and placed into other services in the wider Mackay-Isaac-Whitsunday region.
These funds allowed both services to provide financial aid in terms of assistance with rent, bills and medical expenses, material aid in the form of clothing and furniture and food vouchers among other services assessed on a case-by-case basis.
However, under the changes both services have had their capacity to provide this extra assistance significantly reduced.
Instead, people seeking assistance will be referred on to one of five services between Isaac and Mackay, the closest two being the Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul.
Executive officer of Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre Rebecca Woods said that while both these services do great work in the community, they may not be able to cope with the increased numbers of people seeking assistance due to the reallocation of funds.
Salvation Army do not have a physical emergency relief centre in the Whitsundays region, meaning people would need to seek assistance over the phone.
Mrs Woods was concerned the already busy phone line would be under more pressure due to the reallocation of funding.
“Salvation Army run their emergency relief through a phone number, so somebody rings up on a 1300 number,” she said
“They receive 4000 calls a day and are able to answer 600.
“And if you’re one of the 600 that get through, they have to mail the cash voucher to you because they don’t have an outlet to distribute the vouchers from.
“These are barriers because they’re going to have to get through on a phone and then have a mailing address and they might receive (the vouchers) five days later because it has to be mailed.
“People who need help and support are coming here and they’re being told to make a phone call and it’s just that constant additional burden that’s on an already difficult situation.”
Alternatively, St Vincent De Paul in Cannonvale can assist by providing food vouchers.
But Mrs Woods identified that Whitsunday Neighbourhood Centre alone receive around 90 applications for assistance a month, and with their capacity completely reduced she was concerned that St Vincent De Paul would be inundated with requests for assistance.
“They’re the only service that has ability to immediately address anyone’s needs,” she said.
“They’re going to be at a ridiculous capacity and with the funding that they have I can’t see that lasting without the balance of other services providing support.
“They’re going to be so heavily bombarded with people coming through for assistance that they won’t be able to keep up with demand.
“If the money was given to another organisation here that had another outlet on the ground then we wouldn’t have these issues.
“But the fact that out of the two services that are giving emergency relief, only one has an actual outlet on the ground, we can see that becoming an issue.”
ST VINCENT DE PAUL’S PLAN TO MEET DEMAND
St Vincent De Paul’s Townsville Diocese Executive Officer Edwina Wagland was aware of the changes and hoped that the organisation’s internal funding would help meet demand.
“We do have a portion of that government funding available, but we don’t rely just on that,” she said.
“We will always review our systems and our area in Cannonvale, and we are connected across the state.
“If extra funding is needed, we can look at what capacity we have between our internal capabilities based on a needs focus.”
However, CEO of Whitsunday Counselling and Support Service Wayne Horwood was not confident that the reallocation of funds would ensure long-term needs were met.
Before the changes, Whitsunday Counselling and Support Service had the flexibility to assist families with items such as school clothing and supplies.
Teamed with professional counselling services, Mr Horwood said typically after eight weeks of assistance the at-risk families no longer needed the service’s support and were able to become more independent.
Now, Mr Horwood was concerned that more people would fall into hardships without receiving ongoing support needed to assist them in the long term.
“The challenge is that there are these gaps that keep appearing that we cannot fill,” he said.
“‘The population’s need as a society has not changed.
“People who need (assistance) are not going to disappear.
“Effectively, for us it’s around 22,000 people are now being actively discriminated against through this process.”
While Whitsunday Counselling and Support Service will still be able to provide free counselling and support services, Mr Horwood said their capacity to assist in areas above that has ceased and people would have to travel to either Bowen or Mackay for further aid.
Mr Horwood was concerned that with the cost of travel, limited appointment times and pressure on those services to meet needs within their region would make this a near-impossibility.
“We can still provide free counselling and free refuge accommodation support, but if they need the other paths of case management support, they have to ring the other agencies,” he said
“Sometimes they have to make the appointment and it might only be a morning or an afternoon a couple of times a week, and they might have to drive from the Whitsundays to Mackay.
“If someone’s trying to get a $50 fuel voucher or a $20 food voucher, they can’t afford to drive one way there … so that’s the oxymoron.
“When you look at whether the need is being assessed or met, it’s not.”
CHAIR OF WHITSUNDAY COUNSELLING AND SUPPORT RON PETTERSON PUSHING FOR CHANGE
Mr Horwood has been campaigning alongside Mrs Woods and Chair of Whitsunday Counselling and Support Ron Petterson to resecure funding in the Whitsunday region.
Mr Petterson said he also secured support from the Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen and hoped to take their case to Federal Government.
“I’ve had some quite detailed discussions with Mr Christensen, and I know that he’s been a very positive advocate for it,” he said.
“We’re looking for the best result for the ones who need this money most.
“It was always very successful and very well managed, there was no need to take it off those organisations and do it in a different way.
“These organisations have had it for quite a while, in my opinion if it’s not broken why would you fix it?”
Mr Petterson said the despite the changes, they would continue to help the community in the short term as best they could and were researching other avenues including philanthropy and grants.
“At the end of the day, if anyone comes to our door, we certainly won’t turn them away,” he said.
“We will do everything we can to help them.”
MINISTER’S OFFICE RESPONDS
A statement provided by the office of the Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston indicated that the department would “ensure there is no gap in services”.
“Following an open and competitive process designed to maximise the quality of local services and ensure services are targeted to areas of most need, five organisations were selected to provide emergency relief in the wider Mackay – Isaac – Whitsunday region until 2023,” they said.
“Funding is delivered across the region to provide organisations with greater flexibility to direct resources at areas with greatest need.
“The Government is committed to ensuring residents in the Whitsundays will continue to have access to emergency relief services and is providing $1.5 million to this region, from 1 January 2019 to 30 June 2023.
“There has been no decrease in annual funding for the Mackay – Isaac – Whitsunday region, with $340,675 provided in 2018 and $340,675 in 2019.”
However, Mrs Woods said while the money was technically still within the region, the gap in services in the Whitsunday region specifically had the potential to force vulnerable people to explore more dangerous means of seeking assistance.
“The funding hasn’t left the region, but because of the way that it’s been allocated to different services it’s going to be more challenging for people to get the assistance that was on hand,” she said.
“The way the decision has been made has imposed those barriers and challenges where before there weren’t any.
“The programs we were offering were much more holistic in looking at every situation and what we could look at to try and assist them.
“Those needs are now not met in our community, and we feel that will create an increase in domestic violence, an increase in substance abuse, an increase in theft and petty crime.
“Because people will have to find a new and easier way to get that need met, and the barriers that have been put in place in the funding mean that’s not an easy solution.”
Mrs Woods and Mr Horwood have been campaigning for a re-evaluation of the funding since they became aware of it in September 2018.
However, Mrs Woods said it would take the system breaking to demonstrate exactly how much the region needs funding resecured.
“We’ve been advocating for the locals to say these barriers and these challenges are only going to make the community more vulnerable,” she said.
“We’ve now had to come to a point from about October of last year where both Wayne and I said we’re going to have to let this break in order to show people that this needs to be fixed.”