Cuts puts lives on line
HOMES and lives are on the line as locals desperately wait for urgent financial counselling.
Jacaranda Community Centre in Cloverdale is currently pushed to the brink trying to help those in dire straits who are at risk of losing their homes, but a lack of adequate funding means people are slipping through the cracks.
Jacaranda CEO Lyndsey Fitzgerald said the agency was seeing the impact of massive financial pressure, with one client recently taking their own life just before an appointment.
“We scheduled them two weeks in advance, and that was the closest we could get them in,” Mrs Fitzgerald said.
“We didn’t know that was going to occur. You can’t forsee the future.
“The thing is, if they’d been able to get help, even from another agency beforehand, then maybe it wouldn’t have got that far.”
The agency secured reduced financial counselling funds from the federal Department of Social Services (DSS) for the south-west area after the introduction of the hub system, as well as emergency relief funding for the southeast area.
But Jacaranda lost all its financial counselling funding from the state Department of Local Government and Communities (DLGC) in 2015 when the consortium model was brought in, and has been running an unfunded service for Belmont ever since.
The double hit in reduced funding meant the loss of seven financial counsellors – and new calls for help are far outstripping resources.
Local demand exceeded ability by 478 cases from July to December, 2016.
“The numbers don’t go down. It’s actually worse. The ones who are in rentstress or mortgage stress, that’s a lot worse. Stopping people from losing their houses has become a top priority,” Mrs Fitzgerald said.
“The difficulty is that you know you could help them. And you know that there are things to look at.
“One bank said once when we took it to the ombudsman, ‘oh they didn’t say they were in financial hardship’. Do people use that word? They said they couldn’t pay the mortgage. That is financial hardship, and it ends up getting to a crisis point.”
Jacaranda stopped 47 evictions in the latter half of last year.
Mrs Fitzgerald said clients often waited at the centre in person for assistance. “The clients and the community know we will help them, and they will come here regardless. Government needs to fund places where they know people go to get help,” she said.
A DLGC spokesperson said the State Government recognised that financial counselling was a crucial service.
“The McGowan Labor government went to the election with a commitment to reinstate funding for financial counselling services in the metropolitan area. Further information on how this commitment will be implemented will be available once the state budget is released in September this year,” the spokesperson said.
There is also help through the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007, or visit the ‘Managing your money’ section on the ASIC MoneySmart website: moneysmart.gov.au.
Jacaranda Community Centre CEO Lyndsey Fitzgerald with financial counsellor Clarissa Harp and receptionist Kitty Hansen.