Today (22 February) Lutheran Care launches its 2023 Lenten Appeal, with the community services organisation eager to raise funds to help the rapidly increasing number of people needing support right now.
The Holy Season of Lent is traditionally a time where people make a sacrifice or commitment to give something up, whether it be take away coffees or eating chocolate. Through the Lenten Appeal, we are hoping people will look outward, and do something to support another person or family in need.
Since being founded by a group of Lutheran women in 1969, the organisation has supported and advocated for people experiencing hardship and disadvantage, generally in the low-socio economic areas of South Australia, and more recently, the Northern Territory. However, with the current cost of living and housing emergencies impacting many families and individuals, people may be surprised to learn that the need is now so widespread that people from their friendship circle, church congregation or workplace could be those seeking assistance such as Emergency Relief or at risk of experiencing homelessness.
“It could be the person sitting next to you,” CEO Rohan Feegrade says.
While it’s impossible to find a household that isn’t feeling the pinch of the current cost of living emergency, it is the most vulnerable people in our communities who are being hardest hit.
Households are experiencing the largest annual increase in living costs in over three decades as multiple interest rate hikes and rising food and rent prices place pressure on family budgets.
New Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows the cost of living has risen by 9.3%; the highest annual increase in living expenses since 1987. Annually, food prices rose about 10%, driven by the rising costs of fruit and vegetables. Utilities also climbed by about 10% and transport costs are up 30%.
Many of our clients are unemployed or underemployed, or trying to live on government payments. Countless are falling into the trap of accruing credit card debt, taking out high-interest loans and purchasing ‘buy now pay later’ products, which cost substantially more in the long term.
Alongside the cost of living emergency is a rental crisis of the type we haven’t seen since the Great Depression, Dr Michael Fotherington, Managing Director of Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, told ABC radio on 21 February.
South Australia’s rental vacancy rate sits at a record low of 0.3 per cent, making it, alongside Perth, Australia’s equal hardest capital city in which to find a rental.
There is a mounting ‘hidden homelessness’ problem, with many lifetime renters including dual income families finding themselves couchsurfing or living in motels, caravans or cars because they cannot secure housing.
Lutheran Care Financial Wellbeing Manager Kelly Hughes says, “This is the worst I’ve seen it in nearly 10 years of working in Community Services.”
We are doing what we can to support people knocking on our doors, but, frankly, we cannot keep up.
Many of our Emergency Relief (ER) clients are refugee families, single parent households and Domestic Violence (DV) survivors. An increasing number are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. Through ER, we provide clients with assistance such as food, bedding and clothing. We listen to them and care for them. We also connect them with ongoing programs such as Financial Counselling, mental health support and parenting education sessions. Last financial year, we gave away food, goods and vouchers worth $213,000, which far exceeds program funding.
We supply vouchers to Lutheran Care Op Shops to our clients, so they can purchase items including clothing, furniture, cooking implements, and gifts. We are giving away more vouchers than ever, and with higher values. Last financial year ER clients benefited from $29,000 worth of goods, up from $18,000 the previous year. Seven months into this financial year, and we’ve already given out Op Shop vouchers worth close to $20,000.
More clients than ever are knocking on our doors, and clients are coming back more often. Last year, 35 clients attended our Blair Athol site for Emergency Relief five or more times.
So far this financial year, our Blair Athol team has given out more than 1000 bags of groceries. In January alone, we gave out 160 bags.
On average, 153 ER clients now come to us each month. Forecasts show we will support close to 190 extra ER client households this year. This continues the upward trend in demand for ER, which in the 2021-2022 financial year surged by 260 per cent compared to figures from 2019-2020.
When hit with the magnitude of client numbers, it’s hard to remember that each number is a person.
There’s Daryl, a First Nations man and Stolen Generations survivor with family members to support. He lives with mental health challenges and was struggling to pay for groceries, let alone a fridge to put them in when his broke down. He couldn’t afford his electricity bill and didn’t have the confidence or literacy skills to fill in Housing SA paperwork, leaving him with feelings of shame. With our Financial Counsellor’s help, Daryl is now on a payment plan for his bill. Together, they wrote a letter to Housing SA and lodged paperwork for the National Redress Scheme for Stolen Generations survivors. We linked him to community activities happening in his area and sourced him a second hand fridge. Daryl received food through ER and was also referred to a Lutheran Care counsellor for personal counselling, which he attends fortnightly.
There’s Meg, who is a DV survivor in her 60s. Her small business failed due to COVID-19 and she accrued significant debts through unpaid rates and credit card bills. She struggled with confidence because of the poor state of her teeth. Through our Financial Counsellor’s advocacy, Meg’s debts were waived, and a dentist performed the dental work for free. We helped Meg secure a grant to pay for new dentures, restoring her confidence and dignity. We’ve connected her with free small business support in her local area.
Shane is a teenager who is not safe in the family home due to DV. He hoped to become a paramedic but his good grades fell when he lost his work after his parent wiped and sold his laptop. Shane felt his only option was quitting school in the last eight weeks of his final year to go fruit picking. We supported Shane with homelessness services, Emergency Relief groceries and personal and financial counselling, and liaised with his school to get him support to finish year 12. He is now following his chosen career path.
These are just a few snapshots of the people we are supporting right now. There are many more. Hundreds. And tens we cannot service at the moment.
Since February 1, ER appointments at Blair Athol have been completely booked out. We sent 39 people home with emergency supplies to tide them over for dinner that night and the next day’s breakfast but could not assist them with an appointment when they presented. A further 50 people made phone enquiries for ER whom we couldn’t help, although we invited them to come in for food.
We do not want to turn away people knocking on our doors. We are urgently seeking donations to help us meet demand.
As we move into the 40 days of Lent, we ask you: please give what you can to help us help others. Your support can change lives.
Read more personal accounts from our clients and frontline service providers here.
To donate, please visit: www.lutherancare.org.au/make-a-donation