Lutheran Care is experiencing unprecedented demand for its services, including a 260 per cent increase in Emergency Relief enquiries, as current financial pressures on households cause a significant uptick in people seeking help.
This winter, Lutheran Care’s Emergency Relief program based at Blair Athol has frequently received double the number of enquiries than the program can service on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the Emergency Relief program in the Barossa Valley has experienced a 23 per cent increase in enquiries.
Year on year since 2019, there has been a marked increase in South Australians accessing ER from Lutheran Care, with the service supporting 286 clients in the 2019-2020 financial year, 926 in the 2020-2021 financial year and 1035 clients in 2021-2022.
Last financial year, ER clients accessed the service 1895 times, with 35 clients accessing the service five or more times. Of the clients supported, 313 were experiencing homelessness and 413 were experiencing housing insecurity.
Lutheran Care’s Chief Executive Officer Rohan Feegrade says many of the people seeking support are new clients, who because of the increased cost of living, have been forced to seek advocacy and assistance to help with basics, such as purchasing food and keeping on top of bills.
“We have seen a steady increase of people using Buy Now, Pay Later products to purchase food and fuel vouchers to make it to their next pay day which just increases the debt spiral,” Mr Feegrade explains.
“We have a seen a significant increase in housing insecurity for community members accessing Financial Counselling.
“People are reporting significant and unaffordable rent increases and leases not being renewed, as landlords make the most of the current housing market by selling or re-renting properties at a significantly higher rate. Many people find themselves sleeping in cars, couch surfing or sleeping rough due to the housing crisis we are currently experiencing.”
Through Lutheran Care’s ER program, families or individuals in crisis access free goods and services such as a food pantry, clothing, blankets, fuel and supermarket vouchers, assistance with bills or transport and referrals to other Lutheran Care programs such as Financial Counselling and homelessness services. Another important support provided to clients are vouchers for Lutheran Care’s Op Shops. There has been a significant increase in the number and value of op shop vouchers given out in line with the growing need.
Last financial year, Lutheran Care provided about 3000 ER ‘items’ to those in need, to the value of approximately $213,000. The cost of service delivery far exceeds the program’s funding. To meet demand, Lutheran Care relies greatly on monetary and material donations, including to its current Winter Appeal, and support from volunteers.
Financial Counselling is another service struggling to keep up in the current environment and Manager of Lutheran Care’s Financial Wellbeing services, Kelly Hughes, says, “This is the worst I have ever seen it in my nearly 10 years working in Community Services.”
Mr Feegrade says the current situation is very concerning and illustrates the need to work together as a sector, with strong support from government, corporate Australia and the community, to keep vulnerable people safe.
“Due to rising inflation leading to significant increases in the cost of living, we have found that our voucher amounts are no longer sufficient to make an impact, so clients are requesting amounts not budgeted for,” Mr Feegrade explains.
“We have also seen a rise in the cost of pantry staples for food parcels and a significant drop in the amount of donated goods from parishes, whose congregations are also feeling the pinch.
“Our organisation and our colleagues in the community services and homelessness sectors are working tirelessly to keep up with demand, but we are seeing a perfect storm of housing pressures and rising cost of groceries and bills hitting at the same time as Covid payments cease and a very cold winter hit.”
To help Lutheran Care keep up with the current unprecedented demand for its services, we are seeking support through our Winter Appeal. Any families and individuals who are in a position to help others are urged to make a donation at lutherancare.org.au/make-a-donation
Donations of warm winter clothes for Lutheran Care’s Op Shops, and blankets and long-life pantry items for the Emergency Relief program, are also gratefully sought. New volunteers are also, always, warmly welcomed and much needed.
Find out more about our Emergency Relief program here.
Interested in volunteering? We would love to have you join our team. Contact us here.