It’s around this time of year most Canberrans grab extra layers and turn up the heating, but for the many sleeping rough or facing housing vulnerability, winter’s rapid approach is a much more serious problem.
Hopefully, several thousand of them will find relief through St Vincent de Paul, which has set its sights on a $400,000 fundraising goal for its annual Winter Appeal.
Vinnies Canberra/Goulburn President John Feint said rising costs of living and dwindling affordable housing have led to a spike in demand and a drop in capacity for the country’s charities and community services, and Vinnies was no exception.
“In the last six months, we’ve seen an increase in demand for our services by 30 per cent,” he said.
“That’s in both the number of calls for assistance to our call centres and in terms of dollars spent in aid.
“That mirrors the national trend, and as winter approaches, it’s even more concerning.”
Last winter, Vinnies volunteers were able to provide emergency assistance with food, petrol, clothes, medicine, rent and other essentials worth approximately $550,000 in ACT and surrounds through its emergency relief helpline and network of dedicated volunteers.
In the last six months, in addition to the work of its specialist teams, Vinnies’ volunteer conference network helped more than 6500 people across the region, including providing more than $400,000 for emergency flood relief.
“We would expect that about the same number of people would be helped with the funds raised by the Winter Appeal,” John said.
This year, relief will focus on some particularly vulnerable cohorts.
“We recently gave evidence at the Legislative Assembly about the cost of living increases and part of this highlighted the number of women and, in particular, single mothers and over 55s asking for our assistance,” John said.
“Around 78 per cent of the people who call us are women.”
Women like Joan (name changed), 70, who became the victim of elder financial abuse after her beloved husband’s death and her daughter stole her savings and transferred her house into her own name.
“I’d lost my husband, I’d lost my home, I’d lost my family. I mean, I had nothing to live for. I didn’t even have a pension,” Joan said.
“I never thought I’d end up homeless, on the street in my 70s. Now I know, if it could happen to me, it could happen to any older woman.”
Vinnies placed Joan in crisis accommodation while volunteers assisted her in dealings with Centrelink to sort out her finances and find more permanent housing.
John said it was “frightening” how easily people were slipping over the poverty line or into housing vulnerability.
“We’re seeing people who have their own homes and mortgages and are now struggling with mortgage stress. When you’re in that situation, as many Australians currently are, you only need a couple of things to fall over in life,” he said.
“It could be serious illness or job loss, as happens frequently enough, and all of a sudden, the everyday bills become difficult to pay.”
Across the many services offered through its helpline, Vinnies provides a hand-up to get people over the hump.
It comes in the form of material support, companionship and coaching.
John said in a city like Canberra, with high average incomes, it’s easy to underestimate the need.
“Part of our role advocacy is raising awareness of the income disparity that exists here. Most people in Canberra are relatively well off, but an increasing number sit on the margins of poverty,” John said.
“We’re on the front line every day with families and we hear the stories first hand.
“Homelessness is an increasing reality in our region. There are more homeless people along the coast than ever, particularly in places like Batemans Bay.
“That’s the focus of the Winter Appeal.”
St Vincent de Paul will funnel the Winter Appeal funds into covering emergency accommodation, medical costs, and urgent provisions such as food, fuel and baby products.
They will prioritise women over 55, single women and women with children, many of whom are escaping domestic or family violence.
To donate to the St Vincent de Paul’s Winter Appeal, call 13 18 12 or visit Vinnies.