Charities struggle to cope during pandemic

SAMARA MCRAE

Charities on the Gold Coast have been struggling to provide valuable services to people experiencing homelessness since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Homeless in Southport

Charitable organisations are continuing to do their best to offer services for people experiencing homelessness despite pandemic-related restrictions. Photo: Courtesy Glenn Hampson

 

Some of the charitable organisations had to close down when lockdown started in March, while others operated at a reduced capacity.

Fred’s Place, a St Vincent de Paul homeless support centre located in Tweed Heads, is one of the facilities that stayed open during lockdown and has continued to offer a paired down service to its clients.

Under normal conditions, Fred’s Place provides a drop-in service for people experiencing homelessness, offering facilities such as showers, a laundry, a staffed kitchen, internet and telephone access, a lounge area, and mailing facilities, as well as indoor and outdoor areas for service guests to socialise in.

However, Fred’s Place team leader Alysia Hopkins said although the organisation was still operating, they hadn’t been able to offer many of their services since the pandemic began.

Ms Hopkins said Fred’s Place was still offering food for those in need, but in a modified way.

“Since the height of the restrictions we have been providing a takeaway service for food and encouraging people to leave the service immediately after receiving assistance,” she said.

However, due to COVID-safe precautions, the only other services that Fred’s Place are currently able to offer is the access to the showers and the laundry, which have had extra cleaning measures put in place.

“The shower and laundry facilities are being cleaned after each use and we have seen an increase in people presenting in crisis,” Ms Hopkins said.

Ms Hopkins said the support service had seen more people in need of food aid since the pandemic began.

“We are also seeing an increase in visitors who are highly vulnerable, perhaps due to having limited contact with other services,” she said.

Ms Hopkins said although Fred’s Place hadn’t received any extra funding from the federal government, community donations of items such as food, blankets, and sleeping bags had increased since the start of the pandemic.

Fred’s Place in Tweed Heads is open, but the homeless support centre can only offer limited services while COVID-safe restrictions are in place. Photo: Courtesy Fred’s Place

 

Support the Girls Australia is another local charity that has changed their services since the start of the pandemic.

Support the Girls Australia CEO and founder Jane Holmes said the organisation had to shut down certain events in line with COVID-safe practices, including their street outreach program.

The organisation supports Indigenous communities in rural areas with regular bra fitting and gifting services.

They also educate women and girls about their health and wellbeing.

Ms Holmes said the Support the Girls Australia normally worked alongside other charitable organisations, such as laundry service Orange Skye and homeless food van services, to provide a collective approach.

She said the street outreach program did not operate during the lockdown period as many of the charitable food vans stopped during that time.

Ms Holmes said Support the Girls Australia had also seen a change in the range of people needing help since the pandemic started.

“We suddenly saw working class people displaced from their jobs [due to COVID-19] needing help,” she said.

“Even though they work, so many people live from week to week and do not have savings simply due to the cost of living.”

Ms Holmes said women who did not have funds to purchase menstrual hygiene products or toiletries and families who suddenly could not afford toiletries were among those needing help.

Ms Holmes said Support the Girls Australia were also helping an average of around 100 university students per month with toiletries, hygiene products, underwear and bras.

“Most of these students worked in the hospitality industry, which got shut down [during lockdown],” she said.

Thryft donations

Donations at Thryft’s three stores help to fund the organisation’s the Pay A Sack Forward packages. Photo: Courtesy Ryan Everett

 

Charity shops working to support people experiencing homelessness were also affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

Thryft Op Shop, which has stores in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Melbourne, closed all three of their shops during lockdown earlier this year.

All proceeds from the shops go to support those experiencing homelessness through their Pay A Sack Forward packages, which contain sanitary and household items.

The Brisbane and Gold Coast locations have since reopened, but the Melbourne store has closed again as a result of the latest lockdown in Victoria.

Pay a Sack Forward founder Ryan Everett said they had been unable to do their usual distribution of packages due to a lack of resources and the small size of the organisation.

“Many of the partner organisations we distribute to were closed or unable to operate due to restrictions and social distancing measures, which affected our ability to help where we usually would,” Mr Everett said.

“I imagine this would have led [to] many people feeling quite isolated during this period,” he said.

Mr Everett said people experiencing homelessness often used services such as street food vans and laundry services for the company they provided as much as for the service itself.

“People accessing these services really treasure seeing familiar faces of volunteers and also the other people, [who] they become friends [with],” he said.

Mr Everett said some of the bigger homelessness support programs run by other organisations had been able to keep operating, but said many of the smaller ones suffered as a result of lockdown and ongoing COVID-safe restrictions.

“[Smaller charities] had to wait until some of the restrictions eased [to reopen],” he said.

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