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Vinnies WA Adapts and Responds

Over the past few months, the constantly changing environment through COVID-19 has meant Vinnies WA’s ability to adapt has been crucial so it can continue to support the Western Australian community.  Throughout government restrictions, Vinnies WA continued to deliver emergency assistance although the operation of our services and demand changed considerably during this time.

Crisis impact

In late March when the impact of the pandemic started to set in, Vinnies WA announced that all of the States’ 53 shops would close. Revenue from Vinnies retail shops supports the operation of Vinnies WA services in Mental Health, housing, homelessness, emergency
assistance and financial counselling, so the closure, along with the cancellation of fundraising events, made a swift and significant dent in Vinnies WA ability to support the community as well as affecting nearly 3,000 committed retail volunteers and staff.

In addition to retail volunteers, Vinnies WA has over 1,000 volunteers, known as Conference members, who perform part of the core work of home visits for our Emergency Assistance Program. Members respond to immediate requests from people in their local communities, meeting them face to face to hear their stories and give assistance with food, clothing, utilities, referrals and advocacy.  As the government issued warnings to seniors, it was realised that many of our members who perform this vital role fell into the high risk age category of 70+. In an effort to continue supporting the community, members were able to adapt quickly to new modes of support delivery, shifting contact with clients to phone calls and emails which, in a short space of time, became an incredibly effective way for people to receive vital and immediate support.

Service changes

Much of Vinnies WA services were able to continue operating throughout the lockdown period while adhering to stringent screening, social distancing and hygiene precautions for the protection of both staff and clients. The impact of social distancing in our homelessness services, Vinnies Tom Fisher House and Passages Youth Engagement Hubs in Perth and Mandurah, meant that specialised in-reach services that clients usually receive were reduced or stopped all together. For young people visiting Passages, this diminished connection added an increase in anxiety and further complexity to their situation.

A reduction in visitors to Vinnies WA 24 hour supported Mental Health Service was initially introduced as a result of government and health restrictions, with clients adapting well while being encouraged to maintain their connections with family and essential services. This was also the case in Vinnies Community Houses which offers support with more independent living for people with a mental health diagnosis. Once hygiene protocols were in place, residents were supported in managing restrictions such as decreased visitors to houses and not being able to venture out except for essential reasons.

Additional measures were also introduced for tenants in Vinnies Housing Plus program which takes on the role of being a supportive landlord, rehousing clients who need emergency accommodation. The program has been operating at full capacity since March with staff supporting clients with regular checks for their health and well being, and the provision of food hampers when there were difficulties purchasing food due to supermarket shortages.

Vinnies WA operates the Commonwealth funded National Debt Helpline (NDH) which since the start of May, has seen around 30% of calls being the result of job losses due to COVID-19. Many people calling are also seeking information regarding Government stimulus packages and have been feeling overwhelmed due to the current situation. Most clients now have arrangements with financial institutions in place, with many accessing their superannuation to help with income losses.

The reality now

The reality of people’s situation and level of support is now being seen nearly four months on, with Vinnies WA having given out more than $1 million dollars worth of assistance to Western Australians in this period, mainly in the form of food relief and support to help pay bills. Food continues to be the main reason for people seeking help with nearly 30% of requests coming from new clients that have never reached out for support before. Vinnies WA was able to rapidly adapt its resources in response to this change in demand with a new model of dispensing food relief that started in April, distributing food hampers to people experiencing hardship. Since its inception, well over 3,600 hampers have been given out with the project still running to at least September.

During what has been a challenging time for the community, Vinnies WA goal of assisting Western Australians when times are hard has not waivered. With an expected increase on demand for services over the coming months, we will continue to adapt services and programs to ensure support will be there for disadvantaged Western Australians.

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