From the CEO February 2018

We were overwhelmed and delighted by the community’s generosity in the lead-up to Christmas. All throughout December donations flooded in: a big-hearted outpouring of community support that was both moving and exhilarating. Even in the midst of the pressures of this hectic time of year, people still thought of the women and children we support.

There were school groups who lovingly assembled gift hampers, including personal notes of well-wishes for the women. There were several collectives of apartment dwellers who banded together and decided that we’d be their designated charity this year; a member of one such group loaded up his car – not just the boot, but the back and even passenger seats (it was almost a miracle he could see out!) - with dozens and dozens of individually wrapped gifts. Local businesses donated food; children’s toys and groups, labelled for gender or age, were piled high in our offices ready for distribution; busy crafts-people worked tirelessly to create beautiful blankets or cushions.

And there were quiet and thoughtful individuals just turning up in a low key way with ‘a little something’ that they hoped could make a difference (they did).

One little note captured the real essence of the season in its care and empathy towards the woman who would receive it – a gift voucher where the donor hoped its recipient would spend it ‘just on herself.’

I thank you all for your inspiring and heartfelt efforts which are appreciated by us, and more importantly the women and children who received them, more than we can ever convey. (Read more about the organisations and individuals we'd especially like to thank).

Connecting with the community

We were delighted to be nominated as recipients of February's Kensington Backyard Sessions.

Each month, local Kensington residents are opening up their backyards for their neighbours, friends and families. Everyone brings along their picnic rugs to enjoy a lovely afternoon and listen to local musicians. Tim Solly who established the model combines a beautifully simple idea of music and fun to create community; the essence of what protects us from mental illness and loneliness. We really appreciate the efforts of Tim and other locals, who raised $670 towards our services.

Investment in homelessness services welcome, but NDIS gaps still a concern

We are pleased to see the release of the Victorian Government’s Rough Sleeping Action Plan, which has formed part of the comprehensive ‘Homes for Victorians’ policy.

The announcement was timely as late last year alarming data on the extent of homelessness was released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Among its disturbing findings were that in Victoria over the past four years, there has been a rise of 19 per cent of people seeking homelessness assistance. Put another way, this equates to one in 55 Victorians needing help.

It is even more concerning to learn that 6426 primary school aged children were among them in 2017. Rates of women’s homelessness are also rising. For the first time since the AIHW collection began in in 2011/12, the number of females presenting homeless in 2016/17 has overtaken the number of males.

While we applaud the Rough Sleeping Action Plan's focus of intervening early to prevent homelessness, we remain concerned at potential consequences - for homeless people and others - of the Victorian Government’s decision to transfer its community mental health funding to the Commonwealth now that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is being rolled out. This decision was made in the assumption that the NDIS would instead become responsible for the provision of such community services.

Yet a University of Sydney research report says less than ten per cent — of even those with the most severe and enduring mental illness— will be eligible for the NDIS. The report has raised pressing concerns at the consequences, already in evidence, of the gap beyond the NDIS for the remaining 91% people who aren’t eligible and who risk losing support when funding for existing state and federally run services cease.

Even for the small proportion who do turn out to be eligible, the NDIS is a fundamentally different service model, not a ‘like-for-like’ replacement for what community mental health approaches offer. 

This is a matter of considerable concern to us, because these services provide early intervention and ongoing support for mental health issues. If they are not replaced, there will undoubtedly be flow-on effects for other issues such as family violence, addiction, and homelessness. The report is based on wide consultation with consumers, providers and advocacy groups. We hope that all governments and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) will listen to what it says about the gaps and consider the solutions that have been put forward.

Lastly we continue to be delighted by the achievements of our McAuley Works program. Our team are working with women who face multiple barriers to employment, and their combined success is something we can all be proud of.

Jocelyn Bignold is now on Twitter. Follow her.