Finding help when times are tough

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Helping hand: Ernest and baby Tess, five weeks, appreciate the welfare support. Picture: Gary Sissons

Helping hand: Ernest and baby Tess, five weeks, appreciate the welfare support. Picture: Gary Sissons

THOSE experiencing tough times, with nowhere permanent to live and few job prospects, find the help and comfort provided by welfare officers invaluable.

And, when a young wife and baby are also affected, relief in the knowledge that someone cares is morale-boosting, to say the least.

Helping people in need is what staff and volunteers at Community Support Frankston do. Their mission is to provide quality services based on social justice to support the physical and emotional well-being.

“Many people in our community feel so isolated and helpless about their life situation that just coming in and speaking with a volunteer, being treated with respect and dignity, having someone sitting down and listening to them, is sometimes just as important as the food, voucher or cheque,” Community Support Frankston manager Steve Phillips said.

He described recent federal government cuts to welfare services as galling, saying they hit users hard.

New Frankston residents Ernest and his partner Linda, along with their one month old baby, Tessa, presented at Community Support Frankston last week.

The couple – whose surname is withheld – have struggled with homelessness and low income for years, and have only recently found accommodation and that invaluable support while waiting to be placed on Centrelink benefits.

Although moving into a private rental unit in Frankston they are still finding life “really tough”. Ernest – a welder, concreter, roofer, and labourer – has worked for most of his life but has often found it hard to be made permanent. Jobs and wages come and go, and the theft of his uninsured car brought him close to desperation.

“It’s not one big thing, but a series of things that take you to the edge,” he said. “They all begin to add up and the next thing is you don’t have a job or anywhere to live.”

After living in a hostel and working at Preston, he realised he had to move into private accommodation when Linda became pregnant.

They moved to Frankston expecting to find work, but not having a car meant jobs were hard to come by.

A financial crisis was looming …

“Ernest and Linda presented in extreme financial hardship and didn’t have anywhere else to turn,” Mr Phillips said.

“Our volunteers worked for some time with the couple, and were able to secure a fridge, nappies, toiletries, medicine for Tessa, food and K-Mart vouchers for basic cooking utensils and linen,” he said.

“They are just one example of people who have otherwise been able to manage, but who have fallen on tough times and need emergency relief aid.”

Mr Phillips said that in the 2015-16 financial year the federal government cut $100,000 in emergency relief funding that was being used to support those experiencing poverty, sickness, suffering, distress, misfortune, destitution and helplessness – like Ernest and his family.

“Community Support Frankston had close to 12,000 contacts last year and more than 50 per cent of clients that come through our doors self-disclose to having mental health issues, with the vast majority not engaged with specialist services,” he said.

“Our volunteers are doing tremendous work assisting those in the community falling through service gaps.”

  • Dunkley MP Bruce Billson agreed changes to emergency relief funding rules in 2014 did cause “a slight reduction” in allocations to Community Information and Support Victoria and Community Support Frankston.He said the changes “better targeted available funding to the identified level of need and disadvantage. This is based on Census data that assesses and compares the social-economic circumstances of communities across Australia.”

First published in the Frankston Times – 11 April 2016

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