SSI’s history is inextricably linked to its membership base.
In the year 2000 SSI, then called the NSW Migrant Resource Centre Association, was established as a provider of Humanitarian Settlement Services by its members, 11 multicultural and migrant resource centres.
SSI's first headquarters in Holden Street, Ashfield
Those centres were created in response to the Galbally report in the late 1970s, which aimed to “make migrants more welcome”, help them to settle more easily into Australian life, to maintain their own cultures and to ensure they had the same rights and access to services as other Australians.
Those aims and the migrant resource centres’ community roots remain at the core of SSI’s approach to delivering quality services and support for vulnerable communities.
SSI was launched with its first Humanitarian Settlement Services contract in February 2000. It commenced operations on August 1, 2001, and worked from a building in Holden Street, Ashfield, which was officially opened on October 19, 2002.
SSI employed 23 people to provide initial settlement services to refugee and humanitarian entrants.
The vision was to think outside the box, to be a player in a different way. Members, management and staff put an incredible amount of time and effort into coming up with a vision and budget. People were willing to give up their prized independence for the common goal.
In October 2003, the name of the organisation was changed from NSW Migrant Resource Centres Association to Settlement Services International.
When SSI lost the Humanitarian Settlement Services contract it went into hibernation while it developed a vision for the future, including plans for out of home care that came to fruition five years later.
SSI remained focused on its core business, becoming a viable and important entity in the refugee and multicultural landscape in NSW, creating a foundation and funding education scholarships for young refugees, and programs for refugee groups and organisations.
In 2011, SSI was again awarded the Humanitarian Settlement Services program and work began on introducing a unique multicultural foster care program, initially to build the capacity of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and then, in 2012, as a specialist Multicultural Foster Care Service.
SSI had the honour of being the first multicultural not-for-profit organisation contracted to develop and deliver a culturally appropriate model of foster care, growing a reputation for innovation in case management.
In the six months after the beginning of HSS operations, SSI delivered settlement services, relocated from a temporary office in Leichhardt to a permanent management office in Auburn, employed 52 permanent staff and 114 casual bilingual humanitarian workers, while setting up a large-scale multi-site settlement program for refugees and humanitarian entrants.
The following year, SSI was awarded the Community Assistance Scheme/Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, which provided support to asylum seekers living in the community.
The awarding of the HSS program to SSI was a testament to the connection, the commitment, and the dedication that its members had in their local areas. NSW’s migrant resource centres and diversity agencies, and stakeholders, worked closely with SSI with an aligned mission.
Bringing together that family of SSI kept it connected to the grass roots communities and gave the migrant resource centres a bigger platform. Their capacity, roles in settlement planning and service delivery, and infrastructure support were a significant factor in the integrated model.
Clients were always at the centre. SSI had the support systems, networks and a case management model tailored for each individual’s needs.
Respecting human rights and social justice and the principles of people meeting their full potential underpinned all SSI programs and service delivery frameworks.
It was extremely important that the enormous contribution that immigrants and refugees had made to Australia became a part of SSI’s civic consciousness and advocacy.
SSI continued to develop new programs and services, in partnership with mainstream services, that directly benefitted its clients.
In 2013, for the first time in Australia, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds were able to connect to accessible legal services through collaboration between Legal Aid NSW and SSI. Civil and family lawyers from Legal Aid NSW provided legal advice services on site to clients at Migrant Resource Centres as well as offering regular education workshops about the Australian legal system.
SSI’s Housing Services commenced in 2013, followed by disability services, specifically the Ability Links NSW program in 2014, partnering with UnitingCare Burnside and St Vincent De Paul, to foster full and active participation of people with disabilities in their communities.
In 2014, when SSI successfully retendered for the new asylum seeker Status Resolution Support Scheme, it provided services to nearly 12,000 refugees, humanitarian entrants and asylum seekers.
SSI proved effective at reinvesting its income to help target groups. Clients remained at the forefront of its work, with access to services such as disability services in the language of their own communities, Jobactive employment services, and Ignite Small Business Start-ups, a self-funded enterprise facilitation initiative for refugees.
Connection to community and collaboration to serve the needs of vulnerable people have been the hallmarks of SSI’s development in recent years, including the Refugee Employment Support Program, NSW Settlement Partnership, Diversity Training, Community Hubs, social enterprises, Arts & Culture, and NDIS Local Area Coordinator services.
Programs now extend throughout regional NSW, to Access Community Services in Queensland, and in Victoria, including gambling harm prevention and counselling services.
SSI’s international profile includes participation in UNHCR meetings in Geneva to ensure the voices of its clients are represented internationally and to maintain a global perspective to its work with refugees and asylum seekers, and co-hosting the 2018 Metropolis conference on migration, diversity and integration.