Building hope through levels of care
Last Christmas (2020), working to COVID-19 restrictions in regional Victoria, Salvation Army housing case manager Belinda, along with others from the team, decked out the service’s minibus and delivered gifts and hampers to families they were supporting. For community member Carley* and her family, this was just part of a wide range of ongoing care.
In many regional centres, rental housing availability has been rapidly shrinking, and rental prices sky-rocketing. Contributing factors include large numbers of people moving out from cities and houses being used for lucrative holiday accommodation, rather than offered for long-term rental.
When the Salvos first began supporting Carley, she was living in highly insecure housing with her three children.
Salvation Army housing case manager Belinda explains: “Carley and the children all slept in one room together. They didn’t have access to the lounge room, and another woman was also boarding there. They were treated very poorly and the living conditions were unsafe. This was having a significant impact on the children's health and well-being.
“[Her] son Mark* has autism, epilepsy and a heart condition and receives treatment for his heart through the children’s hospital one hour away. He has an NDIS package, but needed to have his services set up including pediatrician, physio, speech therapy and more.”
To complicate the situation, Carley was, and is, unable to drive.
Belinda and the team were first able to place the family into a motel before moving them into short-term crisis accommodation. The Salvos’ team provided children’s toys, games, clothing, food and vouchers.
To provide respite for Carley and social stimulation for Mark, The Salvation Army team enrolled Mark in childcare and offered advocacy and support for Carley to apply for, and gain, a private rental (close to the local school, shops and public transport), plus some furniture.
For Manager Belinda, the passion for supporting others grew directly out of her own experience.
“I was homeless [myself] from the age of about 15 and lived in transitional housing for about two years before going into public housing,” Belinda shares. “I had support from a number of areas, including the Salvos. They helped with food and the occasional bill. They also helped with furniture to set up my first home in public housing.”
Belinda was inspired to go on to help others and says: “I had a really good rapport with my youth worker at the time and I really admired what she did. I did my Certificate IV in Youth Work and then eventually moved on to my Diploma in Social Work. I wouldn’t have been able to manage that without the external support.
“I’ve now been in my current role with The Salvation Army for 11 years and love being in a position to support others and make a difference in their lives and their children’s’ lives. I feel privileged.”
Layers of care
Belinda says that providing layers of care, from essential housing, to help with furniture, Christmas, and back to school care, all help build stability.
Today she loves to be able to offer Christmas gifts and food to the community members she works with, remembering her first few Christmases years ago, as a teen, all alone, caring for her baby daughter.
She says: “For years I didn’t have a tree or anything like that. I didn’t have money to buy many presents for my daughter, so whatever she was given from The Salvation Army meant a lot to both of us.
“With the Salvos, I always felt comfortable approaching them. I never felt ashamed because they genuinely cared – whether it was help with paying a bill, or Christmas time for my daughter.”
Taking Christmas to the community
Belinda says the housing service team had to find solutions to get care to their community members as COVID lockdowns occurred.
She says: “Normally our service hosts a Christmas party. One of our staff members comes as Santa and we do activities, organise personalised gifts for the kids, take photos with Santa and all share activities and a meal.
“We couldn’t do that in 2020 due to COVID-19, but still wanted to give as much cheer as possible within the restrictions, so we [delivered] Christmas to them. It is a really special time of year and we wanted the kids to have that sense of Christmas wonder.”
Belinda says one of the highlights, was seeing joy on the faces of community members – especially Carley’s four-year-old son Mark.
“Mark had never seen Santa in a shopping centre or anywhere. His response when ‘Santa’ arrived at his place in our van was absolute delight. Seeing his little face and the happiness of the other children was so moving,” Belinda says.
“Seeing a family get to this point is amazing and while they still have a long way to go, the family needed that stability to begin to work on the underlying issues. Making sure they had access to schooling, food and medical treatment, plus some help with Christmas and back to school, helped set them on a really good path to continue to improve the quality and stability of their lives,” she says.
“It is essential for kids to have as much stability as possible.”
*This is a true story with names changed for privacy.
Words: Holly Reed, Pallavi Singhal and Naomi Singlehurst.