Centre requires helping hand

Sir, – Could you allow us to agree with and add to your recent front page exposé on the growing number in our community experiencing financial difficulties “The new face of the homeless” T&A Times May 7.

As the surviving members of the committee for the Tumut and District Neighbourhood Centre (TDNC), we, like Debbie and Jesmine from Women’s Support and Housing Centre (WSHC), believe the NSW Government’s tactics are ignoring the growing iceberg of social disadvantage while making it even harder for those at the tip. Our volunteers and our only paid staff member who is funded for only three days a week, are becoming stretched to breaking point with clients – “those with nowhere else to turn” who are financially vulnerable. Families, as well as youth and single men turn up on our doorstep because they have been “declined service or don’t fit government criteria”.

Jesmine said the NSW Government is cutting right back and selling off public housing. They also appear to be screwing down on criteria for helping our “most disadvantaged” and the TDNC’s three day (20 hours) a week service is being forced to focus more on bean counting and accountability and told to leave the assessment and financial assistance for our most needy to volunteers.

An explanation for this mean-fisted approach could be that the NSW component of our funding, administered by Family and Community Services’ (FaCS) includes rent for our premises, while our emergency relief funding is Federal money with the bulk of it going directly to clients. FaCS’ Community Development Officer has been so “efficient and effective” at administering the criteria for provision of this meagre amount of funding, she has managed to estrange a number of our management committee who have subsequently resigned.

In addition, Debbie and Jesmine who were on our Committee have also resigned due to their increased workload.

These recent resignations have left us desperate and struggling to maintain a functioning body and we are well aware those most in need will suffer should we have to fold as an organisation.

In Bureau-speak NSW funds us to be a Community Hub – “They do lots of information and referral to the other services in Tumut. New to town, a young Mum looking for a playgroup or a children’s service, a young person wanting some information about getting a resume done, someone needing assistance to fill out forms. That’s the information referral bit and that’s the connecting bit”.

The sub-program to this is called Community Builders – “Communities building on their own resources, effectively planning and managing and identifying and addressing disadvantage. That’s really important in engaging everyone in the community so they feel that they can come here and ask for help or referral for information and also so they can use and be connected with “infrastructure” we call it, in the community. That might be using your meeting rooms, but it could also be letting groups know that there’s a hall out at Batlow or the parks that are available. It’s also a meeting place for people where groups can meet, or you can support them in getting groups together.” Note none of the criteria includes actual money assistance. So for example, when a client arrives at our doorstep and can’t pay their electricity bill, we presumably have to show them the parks where they can have a picnic or offer to help them with their resume, or perhaps they’d like to join or form a group. Then send them away empty handed for their most basic and urgent need, electricity.

Of course emergency relief is not our only role, and we believe we have been offering a comprehensive, practical referral service from our incorporation in 1986 – “for the relief of poverty, distress, sickness and helplessness”.

This is not just a letter to reiterate Debbie and Jesmine’s comments on the increasing financial needs in the community, or a letter to criticise FaCS’ lack of appropriate communications skills. This letter is to implore those in our community who have genuine empathy with our objectives to volunteer themselves onto our committee so as to maintain the survival of the Centre to continue offering financial assistance to those “socially disadvantaged with nowhere else to turn”

Yours etc,

The Committee of the Tumut

and District Neighbourhood