“There are many, many honest and hardworking taxpayers, now unemployed in our communities who have almost no support. They are in serious crisis,” said SSI Community Engagement Practitioner, Paula Ben David.
Paula with some of the week's Care Package supplies and pre-made meals to be distributed to those in need.
Ever since COVID-19 hit Australian shores, Paula has been working to ensure individuals and families seeking asylum in Australia, who are not eligible for federal government employment support packages, do not go hungry.
Paula leads SSI’s Care Package program, which was designed in early March following government issued shutdowns across NSW.
The program was developed to support individuals on temporary or on bridging visas who lost their source of income due to the shutdown and as a result were struggling meet their basic needs.
Since the care package initiative’s inception, over 350 households, including single adults, young families and women at risk have been supported to put food on the table and meet their basic needs.
“I am seeing people in dire situations. Living standards are in many ways like situations I witnessed abroad while working in resettlement. It troubles me that this is happening here in Australia,” said Paula.
Paula explained that at the beginning of the pandemic, she met with families who had lost their source of income and could not receive support from the Jobkeeper and Jobseeker initiatives. As a result, many had burned through their savings and fallen four to six weeks behind on rent.
Now, with no clear end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, these families are facing over 14 weeks of rent arrears.
“Some of the people [seeking asylum] are now homeless. I have seen abusive text messages from landlords and heard stories of young single women being evicted from the security of their homes.
“At the same time, I have seen a letter from a landlord begging for rent money because he has lost his job and his wife has just given birth,” she said.
It is not just individuals and young couples on bridging visas who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, Paula has seen many parents and young children visit SSI seeking support to feed their family.
“Children are not exempt from this hardship. Many, too young to understand the situation are going hungry and cold while other children who are old enough to understand what is happening have shared that they feel the burden that falls on them,” explained Paula.
Settlement Services International, dedicated staff such as Paula and other non for profit organisations are doing their very best to support the individuals and families struggling with the ongoing fallout of COVID-19. Despite their best efforts, there are still individuals in our community falling through the cracks, with limited support from the government’s welfare safety nets.
“I want to ask Australians, how do we expect to come back from a situation like this?” Asked Paula, “Should we be more accountable on a personal and community level or should this be left for the state and federal government alone?”
“The answer is both. SSI is just one part of a great unmet need. We should all keep in mind that this current crisis is affecting all of us and we can do and be better especially now.
“The first step is being kind and reaching out to your community members. You can also write a letter to your local MP expressing your concern,” said Paula.
Click here to donate to SSI’s care package program.
Learn how to write to your local MP here.