Providing community services has faced some new challenges during the COVID-19 outbreak, but UnitingCare West, a Uniting Church WA community service provider, is continuing to support vulnerable people in WA through their programs.
A number of UnitingCare West’s face-to-face services are considered ‘essential’, so are continuing to be offered with some changes to protect people and to comply with infection control and physical distancing rules. Unfortunately, social gatherings and outings within their programs have had to cease while these rules are in place, but will pick up again once the restrictions are lifted.
‘Essential’ services at UnitingCare West include disability support programs and accommodation, and homelessness services. Michael Chester, Head of Service Operations at UnitingCare West, said these services will continue to support people in the community, with some extra measures in place during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’ve got people with disabilities who live in a supported accommodation environment, so we’ve organised teams around the homes. We’ve minimised the potential for an employee to have cross contact across the homes so that we can keep a closer eye on a specific employee group that’s supporting a specific group of individuals with disability,” Michael said.
“In the homelessness space, in Tranby [Centre], we’ve restricted the number of people who can go into Tranby at once. We’re limited to ten people who can go in at a time; they have 45 minute sessions and then there’s a 15 minute cleaning session.
“The homelessness issue has been front and foremost in the media as far as the most visible cohort of people who are impacted by the response to the pandemic, and then will potentially be the most vulnerable if they do get transmission. So there’s been a lot of stress and anxiety with the people that we normally support.
“We’ve seen a lot more people than we had seen in the previous month and there’s heightened concerned about what happens if someone is to get coronavirus, both individually and collectively.”
Michael said that while there has been an increase in people accessing Tranby Centre, UnitingCare West’s drop-in homelessness support centre, there has been a decrease in demand in other areas. Michael said one possible reason for the increase at the Tranby Centre is because other services have had to cut back, due to restrictions.
“Interestingly, because the government has stepped in so quickly with Jobseeker and with the $750 payments, in fact what we’ve seen is a decrease in demand,” Michael said. “Financial counselling has seen a decrease in demand, and emergency relief has seen a decrease in demand.
“But, that’s a short term response while people have been trying to get their own head around what they have to do for themselves and their families. Because the government was very much on the front foot with its financial response, people are not feeling the same degree of anxiety perhaps.
“Also with utility providers talking about no disconnections, the things that people are normally worried about on a day-to-day basis have been taken away from them right now. But we anticipate that in the coming months we will see a big surge of financial counselling as people start to see the longer term impacts of all this.
“While those initiatives by the government are brilliant and will certainly help people, they won’t help everyone,” Michael said.
Providing support via technology to reduce face-to-face contact has also been a challenge for the service provider, both for staff adapting to new ways, and for some of the people they work with. However, these are challenges which they are working through and making adjustments for.
Due to physical distancing rules, UnitingCare West has had to cease face-to-face support from their valued volunteers, at least for the moment. Michael said there is new opportunities for existing volunteers to stay connected through a new program they’re launching – Let’s Talk.
“One of the things that’s really important for us is maintaining our volunteering base during this situation. It’s meant that we’ve had to completely rethink how we can utilise volunteers,” he said.
“So, we’re starting up a new program for our existing volunteers call Let’s Talk. It’s a way for volunteers to stay connected with each other and to remain connected to our teams.”
Through challenging times, Michael said the main focus of UnitingCare West at the moment is to ensure that people can still access the support they need.
“We’ve been really focussed on not wanting anyone to fall through the gaps,” he said. “The change from face-to-face to other means of support has been quite challenging for our workforce and especially for the people we support.
“We’ve really been reinforcing the message with our client support teams that we encourage them to be creative and imaginative in about how they provide that support, and they’ve really done some amazing things to accomplish that.”
For more information on the community service programs UnitingCare West offers, visit their website.
To support UnitingCare West and vulnerable members of the community, consider making a financial donation – donations of material goods are not required at this time. Find out how you can donate here.
Image: Hush, an outreach worker at Uniting Care West prepares a meal at the Tranby Centre.