While demand for some CatholicCare services has declined, there has been a surge in enquiries for Emergency Relief. How has COVID-19 affected our service delivery and how are we getting help to those most in need?
Many Australians have already lost their jobs because of COVID-19 shutdowns, and it is predicted that the jobless number could grow to 1.4 million by the end of June. As people join the growing queues stretching outside Centrelink offices, many will find themselves in desperate financial stress, waiting for their income support applications to be processed while their rent, utility and food bills mount up.
Over the last few weeks, CatholicCare has received calls from many people in similar situations, desperately seeking Emergency Relief.
‘We’ve had one family with four children where the mum was the main breadwinner, said Denise Lacey, regional manager of CatholicCare’s Gippsland offices. ‘The shop where she was working closed its doors and the family were left with no income. We were able to pay for three weeks rent, food and fuel; enough to tide them over until their Centrelink payments came in.'
The issue of rent has come up often with many clients, with some threatened with eviction when loss of income resulted in rent arrears.
‘Another women was working in sales,’ said Denise, ‘but when she was stood down, she had no income and no means to pay her rent. She took great pride in the fact she had never before needed to ask for help, but when she was threatened with eviction, she called us. We paid for two weeks rent – enough to prevent eviction while she waited for her Centrelink payments to kick in.’
‘Another family had their Centrelink application rejected because he had a pending worker’s compensation claim. When mum lost her job things became very desperate. We were able to help them pay some bills, provided food vouchers and some Easter chocolates for their 6-year-old child. Fortunately, their Centrelink claim has now been accepted.’
There is a recurring theme among many of the families who are turning to CatholicCare for Emergency Relief support. Most were working in unskilled part-time or casual roles, living from one paycheck to the next, with no savings to fall back on. Most are living in rental accommodation. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable many of these families are. Prior to COVID-19, they were already living precariously on the edge.
‘Emergency Relief can provide a circuit breaker for people at times of financial hardship,’ said Denise. ‘Sometimes people just need a helping hand to get them back on track.’
‘Unfortunately, we do expect demand for Emergency Relief to grow in the coming months. It is fortunate that we have been able to adapt our practice in order to deliver our service while ensuring the health and safety of clients and staff.’
Since CatholicCare’s physical distancing measures were implemented last month, most staff are now working from home so clients do not need to present at our offices to receive a service. People can still call CatholicCare branches for support and assessments for Emergency Relief can be conducted over the phone. CatholicCare are able to pay bills online, send vouchers via Express Post, or email e-vouchers to clients.
‘The new processes are working very well,’ said Denise. ‘For example, a woman who came to us for urgent support after losing her income was assessed and sent some e-vouchers. Within half an hour, she was able to purchase groceries at the supermarket so she could put a meal on the table that night. How efficient is that!’
More information: Emergency Relief