Same storm, different boat: support for those who are falling through the cracks

During COVID-19 restrictions, you may have heard the phrase ‘we’re all in the same boat’, used as encouragement to look after each other and support each other through the new physical distancing rules.

You may have also seen a meme floating around the internet claiming that actually, ‘we’re not in the same boat, but we are in the same storm.’

This phrase is all too real for many people in WA who are falling through the cracks of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 financial support.

As restrictions begin to ease and we can see some hope of returning to normal life in the future, many of us may be thinking the worst is in the past. But for some people in our communities, the financial impacts of COVID are far from over. The Federal Government has put in place some great measures to support people who have lost work, or are unable to operate their businesses during this time, but others are being left behind.

Kalamunda and Foothills St Martin’s Forrestfield Uniting Churches have decided to support some of these people by donating their retiring offerings – financial donations from congregation members to the church – to organisations providing aid to people who are currently not eligible for government support.

The two congregations, through their Joint Co-ordinating Committee, have worked together on all sorts of things, and have shared ministry, leadership and education opportunities since signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) about 15 years ago.

When COVID-19 hit and members from the congregations realised people were being left behind and struggling, they wanted to help.

Robert Watson, member of the Joint Co-ordinating Committee, and of St Martin’s Forrestfield Uniting Church, said members were concerned for people who were unable to make an income or receive government benefits.

“There was a concern shared that while the government, both federal and state, were doing great things, there were people who were falling through the safety net,” Robert said.

“For us, they were people like asylum seekers or refugees, temporary migrant visa workers and also student visa holders.

“As far as we know, they’re not recognised in the new payment schemes that the Commonwealth Government has put together; they’re not eligible to access those.

“Their jobs have dried up. The Commonwealth Government have said there’s the expectation that students should be able to look after themselves while they’re here, but some of them have relied on casual part time jobs to see them through.”

“So we decided that we would start a retiring offering.”

The three groups who have received a donation so far are the Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD), the Edith Cowan Student Guild, and Migrante Australia. So far, $300 has been donated to each organisation.

The internal appeal will continue until at least October this year, with possibly more organisations added to this list.

CARAD

CARAD provide support for refugees and asylum seekers in Perth, who are often surviving with little income and no government support. When COVID-19 hit, many people lost their jobs, and with it their only source of income. CARAD help by providing emergency relief and advocacy.

Joanna Josephs, General Manager of CARAD, said CARAD is currently seeing a doubled increase in demand.

“Each month we have a certain number of people that will be referred to our organisation for help, through other organisations or themselves. In the last month or two, double the number have approached us for help,” Joanna said.

“The main reason for this is that a lot of asylum seekers had temporary casual jobs. They experience arguably some of the most barriers to get into employment, so when jobs started getting cut they’re the first people to lose those types of jobs.

“Some people had community support, so they might have been living with a friend rent free, but then that person lost their job. So it’s either they lost their own income or their community supports are also feeling financial pressure and couldn’t help them as much.”

CARAD are calling on the government to do more for people who are struggling financially.

“We’re calling on the State Government to make financial assistance available to people seeking asylum. Federally, we need so many changes when it comes to people seeking asylum.

“Other states in Australia have made financial assistance packages particularly for temporary visa holders, including people seeking asylum – and Western Australia hasn’t done that,” Joanna said.

Edith Cowan University Student Guild

The Edith Cowan University Student Guild support and advocate for students of the university in a number of ways. With casual and contract employment common among students, when COVID-19 came, many students lost their jobs and were unable to make an income.

International students were even harder hit, as they are not eligible for the Centrelink’s JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments.

Elsa Chew, President of the Edith Cowan University Student Guild, said many students are currently doing it tough.

“During the COVID situation, when it first started to hit there were a lot of students who were in need of groceries and finding it hard to pay their rent, because all of a sudden a lot of them lost their jobs,” Elsa said.

“So everyone was struggling and figuring out how to pay their semester fees, how to buy groceries, how to pay their weekly bills.

“The education sector had a huge hit. A lot of students didn’t come on campus, they weren’t allowed to see their peers. The mental health aspect had an effect too.

“A lot of them were international students with family overseas. Because situations overseas were worse than where it is in Australia, a lot of them couldn’t get money from their families overseas because the banks were shut or money was delayed; [they] couldn’t get anything posted to them because post was delayed.

“A lot of that impact built that dynamic of students having a difficult time.

“My heart really goes out to those students who had just came to study their first semester here,” Elsa continued.

“They haven’t had an opportunity to see Western Australia as a whole, they haven’t had an opportunity to meet friends or go to parties or events or any of those social aspects of university. And then COVID-19 hit and they are stuck at home.

“It’s a very difficult time for everyone. The first semester students here are really in a major situation.”

The guild have been supporting students through their Student Assist program and their Food Pantry. They provide emergency relief, as well as advocacy and referral services. They have also been running online wellbeing events, such as weekly DJ sets livestreamed on Facebook and Twitch, as well as their Stress Less Week.

The guild also recently joined with other university student guilds in WA to write to Hon Sue Ellery BA MLA, calling for more assistance from the State Government for international students.

The letter writes: “In Australia, the loss of casual work and the Federal Government’s failure to extend vital Centrelink payments to international students has left many of these students in dire straits, unable to pay rent, fees or food expenses. With no sources of financial support or ability to generate income, these students are now facing immense hardship.

“We want to see the Western Australian State Government match Victoria’s relief payments and step up to support our international students. We must provide adequate financial relief for our students to ensure they are not left behind.”

Migrante Australia

Migrante Australia, an advocacy group for Filipino migrants in Australia, is co-ordinating the COVID-19 Tulungan Migrante in Western Australia. Tulungan is a Filipino word meaning ‘co-operative efforts’. The appeal is supporting migrant workers who have been left out of the government’s financial support programs during the pandemic.

Carmelita Baltazar, Chairperson of Migrante Australia said migrant workers and international students are vulnerable right now.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread unemployment in Australia,” Carmelita said. “Millions of workers including migrant visa workers have lost their jobs. The Federal Government has allocated a $130 billion stimulus package in the form of wage subsidies and economic relief for six million workers, however, it did not include migrant visa workers.

“Approximately 1.1 million visa workers, including international students, were left behind.”

Carmelita said that the Filipino community has submitted an appeal letter to WA State Premier Mark McGowan for some economic relief but has not heard of any reply as yet.

She added that in NSW, Victoria and South Australia the project is called Damayan (Mutual aid) Migrante, and that donors and volunteers are making a big difference in the lives of people affected by COVID-19 restrictions.

How you can help

Kalamunda and Foothills St Martins’ Forrestfield Uniting Churches will be donating their retiring offerings, until October this year, to organisations assisting people who are ‘falling through the cracks’ of COVID-19 financial support from the Australian Government.

Consider talking to your Church Council about doing something similar, or perhaps making a once-off donation to support people in your community.

To donate to the work of CARAD, visit their website.

For information on the work of the Edith Cowan Student Guild and how you can support them, visit their website. To read the letter they sent calling for more government support for international students, visit Instagram.

Migrante Australia are currently appealing for food or cash donations. Migrante volunteers will give food relief packs who registered with Tulungan Migrante in WA. To register, or for more information, contact Nelson Mapaye on 0426 237 910. For more information on Migrante Australia, follow them on Facebook.

Heather Dowling

Top image supplied by CARAD.

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