Unprecedented: Demand for support services through the roof

The Courier Mail
By Taylah Fellow

Queensland charities are experiencing unprecedented demand, with inflation, rate rises and the housing crisis leading to record numbers of vulnerable and disadvantaged residents seeking help for the first time in their lives.

Vinnies, Rosies Friends on the Street, OzHarvest and Lifeline’s UnitingCare have all reported an increase in demand with the vast number made up of new people accessing services.

Charities are also running out of food following for meal services during the cost of living crisis, with more than 100 organisations in Brisbane now on OzHarvest’s waitlist in the lead up to Christmas.

Vinnies Queensland chief executive Kevin Mercer said Queenslanders were hurting, and unable to afford essentials like rent, groceries and utilities.

“It’s been a real challenge to keep up with the growing number of calls for help,” he said.

“Support requests statewide in the last 12 months increased by 15 per cent compared to the year before, and 36 per cent compared to the year before that.

“Increasing rents and lack of affordable housing have seen many Queenslanders ask for help who have never had to reach out before – especially younger families.”

During the 2022-23 financial year Vinnies supported nearly 250,000 Queenslanders and provided more than 103,000 nights of accommodation, with around a quarter of people requesting help has not asked for help previously.

Rosies Friends on the Street engagement and fundraising manager Lacee Overton said the service had experienced a 30 per cent statewide increase in outreach attendance in the past 12 months, with many feeling overwhelmed when trying to navigate government support pathways for the first time.

More Queenslanders than ever are doing it tough.

More Queenslanders than ever are doing it tough.

“Some locations, specifically Brisbane city, regional areas like Cairns and Toowoomba, they’ve seen a 50 per cent increase,” she said.

“There are a lot of new people who have never imagined they would be in the situation they‘re in.”

Meanwhile, Brisbane Youth Service also reported unprecedented demand, with outreach rising 88 per cent over the past four years, including more than 3000 urgent support requests in 2022-23.

Brisbane Youth Service’s Emily Nunes said urgent requests were at “extremely elevated levels” and rates of employed young people seeking support had doubled since 2020-21.

“This does not necessarily mean youth employment rates have increased, rather more young people are seeking support while they are employed,” she said.

“The service also experiencing a 15 per cent increase in the number of times young people engaged with us this year.”

Ms Nunes said the housing and cost of living crisis was disproportionately impacting young people who already face the highest rates of homelessness in Queensland.

“Young people are often on the lowest incomes and are struggling to keep up with the inflated cost of living,” she said.

“We have some young people visiting our Hub to access our food pantry as they barely have enough money to cover rent so food becomes a luxury.”

A recent survey of 1,900 charities supported by OzHarvest found that 73 per cent had seen an increase in demand for services in the past six months, with almost half not having enough food to meet demand.

Suncorp Bank has funded new kitchen space in Brisbane to provide up to an additional 52,000 cooked meals each year, or 1000 per week, to feed the growing number of Queenslanders in need.

Chef Kara Kara Urbanska with Suncorp Bank executive general manager Nick Fernando. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen

Chef Kara Kara Urbanska with Suncorp Bank executive general manager Nick Fernando. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen

OzHarvest Queensland manager Bernardo Tobias said almost a third of people seeking support had never needed food relief before.

“The demand for food is at an all-time high,” Mr Tobias said.

“OzHarvest supports more than 140 charities in Brisbane; however, there are over a hundred on our waiting list.

“We hope to be creating up to 1000 extra meals per week by Christmas, which will help put food on the table for those who need it most.”

UnitingCare statewide manager of financial resilience and wellbeing service Jonathan Turk encouraged Queenslanders to call the national debt helpline if they were feeling financially overwhelmed for free and confidential support.

“The lead up to Christmas is considered one of the most financially stressful periods of the year,” he said.

“Interest rate rises, work events, groceries, fuel – that’s even before you start talking Christmas presents.

“Free financial advisers can help with debt options, payment arrangements, budgets and Government assistance … this is a free, confidential service, without judgment.

“Remember you are not alone and there are steps that you can take to help get your situation under control.”

UnitingCare advice on what to do when hard times hit:

* Visit UnitingCare‘s ’Take control of your budget and finances’ web page for practical steps support your journey to financial recovery.

* Call the National Debt Helpline and speak to a financial counsellor on 1800 007 007

* Visit the Department of Human Services to make sure you are receiving all the government grants that are available to you. You may be eligible for a grant, rebate or concession that you’re currently unaware of.

Orginially published on Wednesday 8 November 2023 at 12am on https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/unprecedented-demand-for-support-services-through-the-roof/news-story/397931295b5f1e87c5f197e2f41513b7