Salvos detail method to bushfire recovery
16 June 2020
Public commentary surrounding the release of funds raised from The Salvation Army’s Bushfire Disaster Appeal, has, at times, been loud and relentless. The Salvation Army has been working actively to address these concerns, while maintaining a firm focus on helping those impacted by the bushfires and seeking support.
One of the common themes that have emerged from the public has been around why all funds aren’t distributed immediately to those affected.
The Salvation Army in Australia has been responding to disasters and other crises since 1887 and has learned much over that time about what true recovery looks like. While every event is unique, one thing all events have in common is the trail of destruction that follows, which often means years of working together with communities to bring about restoration.
When the Bushfire Disaster Appeal was launched on 9 November 2019, The Salvation Army knew that its services and programs would be needed for the long haul.
“What we know from responding to disasters over many years is that people’s needs change over time,” says Salvation Army Secretary for Mission, Lieutenant-Colonel Lyn Edge. “Immediate needs might be for accommodation, food or fuel. As time progresses and people are looking to the next stage of recovery, the costs are often more substantial. This phase of longer-term recovery and rebuilding is the most expensive and it is important we are there to help people during this period.”
Those rebuilding homes may be faced with holdups such as insurance claims, drafting plans, applying for permits, contracting builders and clearing rubble from their land. Those living in rental properties destroyed by fires must find new accommodation in communities suffering multiple property losses.
“Our role [during this time] is to help people cover living expenses as they get back on their feet,” says Lyn.
As many still struggle to come to terms with what they have been through and what they have lost, it can often be difficult to see a clear path forward towards recovery. For some, that path is only now revealing itself.
“We were talking to someone last week who said that just after the fires hit, they weren’t sure what they wanted to do and so had not asked for help earlier in the year. However, recently they have decided to re-start their small business and we were able to help with that.
“There is another group of people who are only now asking for help for the first time as they take stock of what they’ve lost and what it’s going to take to fully rebuild. This is why we have funds committed towards longer term recovery.”
The road to recovery looks different for everyone
When the “Black Summer” bushfires tore through the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Patrick was fighting to save a friend’s property when his own burnt down. An avid musician, Patrick not only lost valuable musical instruments stored in the house he was renting, his caravan was damaged too.
“A friend of mine lived a couple of blocks away so I was helping save her place, when mine – the only place on the street – burnt down,” Patrick recalls.
Patrick (62) didn’t have any insurance and is currently on Newstart. After applying for public housing, Patrick set up a temporary home in his caravan.
When Salvos workers met Patrick, all he had was his beloved dog and a damaged caravan. All his tools and personal goods were lost in the fires.
The Salvation Army was able to provide Patrick with two financial grants that has initially helped him secure short-term rental accommodation and cover the cost of the rental bond, while he looks for longer term accommodation. He was also able to purchase personal items as well as a second-hand trailer, to help him earn some income by mowing lawns.
Patrick also received donated white goods from the Salvos.
“The Sallys [Salvation Army] have been absolutely helpful and I appreciate everything they’ve done,” Patrick says.
“I’m still in shock because you never think it’s going to happen to you until it happens. They just called and came by with a fridge, washing machine and TV.”
For Patrick, the toll a disaster can take on a person’s mental health has not gone unnoticed, and he acknowledged he might need help moving forward. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me so I’m trying to take it as it comes,” he said.
For many going through the traumatic and harrowing experience of a disaster, along with the physical impacts, there is also an increased risk to mental health. Along with practical support, The Salvation Army recognises the importance of providing emotional and spiritual support early and throughout disaster recovery and have continued to provide counselling and hold spiritual discussions with community members.
Experience informs recovery efforts
The Salvation Army uses extensive experience in dealing with disasters to inform an approach to recovery that supports communities for the long haul. This is intentional and seeks to ensure that people requiring ongoing assistance as they recover will have access to it.
Any interest earned on donated funds during this stage is put back into those impacted communities.
Research conducted by the University of Melbourne following the devastating Black Saturday fires of 2009, revealed that secondary effects of disasters not only make the recovery process challenging but also take place over years. This includes loss of people’s home, income, job opportunities, local services and social networks. Compounded with the impact of COVID-19, these secondary effects have made the recovery process especially complex for individuals and communities, as many businesses have been unable to trade or profit from tourism.
The study also underlined the importance of utilising donated funds in the immediate aftermath of the crisis as well as for longer-term recovery. Salvation Army teams are still active in bushfire-affected communities, with a dedicated Bushfire Recovery Team working closely with other Salvos services such as Moneycare and Doorways, to provide holistic financial, emotional and spiritual support.
As a national organisation that is locally embedded, Salvos not only understand their community – they are a part of it, which means they are often there before, during and after a disaster strikes.
“[Our teams] are listening to local residents, businesses and local leaders about how they think the money can best be used to help their particular communities rebuild,” says Lyn. “Ensuring local communities have a voice into how the money is spent is one of the critical elements in making a full recovery.”
To date, The Salvation Army has assisted almost 12,000 Australians impacted by the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires. More than $21.6 million has already been distributed, with $18 million in additional grants being dispersed now and over the next three years.
To learn more about how the bushfire Disaster Appeal funds are distributed and how The Salvation Army provides wrap-around services to impacted communities that go far beyond material support, please read our bushfire, relief and recovery FAQs.