The Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS) has sounded the alarm that funding for community services providing emergency relief, which was doubled by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and tripled by Lotterywest during the pandemic, is coming to an end this month, despite an increase in demand for support.
While the community sector welcomed the increase of emergency relief funding in response to the initial COVID-19 pandemic period, WACOSS has received particularly concerning information and data from emergency relief providers – community service organisations who provide crisis accommodation, emergency relief in the form of food, monetary assistance, rental and tenancy support – that shows an exponential increase in demand, and yet funding is due to be cut back to pre-pandemic levels on 30 June.
Requests for rental and tenancy support has been steadily increasing in 2021.
Service providers have reported an increase of people seeking assistance for tenancy issues by 100%, compared to the same time last year. 43% were seeking assistance emergency relief for the first time.
“Shutting off funding for support, with no other funding source on offer, will only further disadvantage people who have never before navigated services,” said Louise Giolitto, Chief Executive Officer, WACOSS.
“There’s a time frame for getting people back on their feet, and if we miss this window of opportunity, hardship and poverty becomes much more entrenched and very difficult to escape.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, Lotterywest pivoted their funding to support community services, and their investment in emergency relief has been remarkable, but now they are returning to their community investment framework funding strategy.
“What we fear is that at a time when the need is increasing, the State Government is not providing an alternative funding source,” Ms Giolitto said.
Service providers estimate that around 15-20% of emergency relief funds are being spent supporting people on low incomes, in addressing their rent arrears, so that they can avoid the risk of being evicted into homelessness.
“Services are facing continued pressure and demand to support people who are in crisis. There is simply no accommodation available, and people have nowhere to go, that is why we have joined the Housing Emergency Response Group with Shelter WA and other community service providers, which has put forward a suite of recommendations to chart a path forward in this worsening crisis,” Ms Giolitto said.
Lyndsey Fitzgerald, Chief Executive Officer, Jacaranda Community Centre said: “We are seeing a perfect storm of hardship, which has been exacerbated by the natural disasters of both the Wooroloo bushfires and of Tropical Cyclone Seroja – never before have we seen a range of economic crises hit our community in such a short timeframe, all at the same time. However, there will be a reduction in emergency relief funding for the next financial year, and this year’s funding is running low.
“Many people impacted by the fires and the cyclone have never accessed community services before, so are unfamiliar with what’s available and how to access help. We have one chance to help these people in the face of hardship, and that’s right now,” Lyndsey said.
Service providers supporting temporary visa holders and people seeking asylum have been doubly hit, reporting an increase in the number of people seeking support, and a decrease in the amount of financial assistance being provided.
Esther Deng, Client Services Manager at the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD) said: “We often refer clients on to services funded by DSS, but we are noticing an alarming trend that these services are turning people away due to a reduction in their funding, and that eligibility criteria has changed to exclude anyone who does not hold Australian work rights, or those not wholly on formal rental and bond agreements. Without further funding, this leaves a lot of people seeking asylum without support.”
“Cutting this funding with no other alternative from State or Federal Governments will see more people homeless, unable to pay bills or put food on the table with nowhere to turn,” Louise Giolitto concluded.
WACOSS – Laurene Coller, Communications Officer, [email protected], 0419 316 557.
CARAD – Esther Deng, Client Services Manager, [email protected], 08 9227 7322.
Jacaranda Community Services – Lyndsey Fitzgerald, Chief Executive Officer / Financial Counsellor, [email protected], 08 9477 4346.