As physical distancing measures and lockdowns continue, it has been heartening to see how this collective experience of the virus has galvanised our sense of neighbourly and community spirit. It has bolstered our sense of care and compassion for everyone. We are seeing plenty of resourceful and inventive ways that people and communities are maintaining a sense of connection and caring for others, while ensuring safety of all.

Encouragingly, we’ve also seen new levels of Government support for Australia’s most vulnerable – including those who our staff work with every day – with the JobSeeker supplement, a JobKeeper subsidy, a boost in domestic and family violence and mental health funding, to name a few. There is a swell of support, empathy and generosity towards the growing number of people who are facing tough times as unemployment levels increase and people face a range of personal crises such as financial stress, exacerbated mental health concerns or homelessness.

As a community services charity with more than 500 services across Australia, there is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way we work and serve people in need. I am proud and immensely humbled by all of our staff who, in the face of many new challenges, have adapted tremendously to this new environment while living out our values of compassion, celebration, integrity, respect and perhaps above all else, perseverance.

For months, even before the virus jumped to pandemic proportions, our staff have been working together (while apart) to recalibrate and adapt to this rapidly changing environment so we can safely support some of Australia’s most vulnerable people through this difficult time.

We have learned new skills, harnessed resourceful ways to serve people in new ways and a slew of creative collaborative efforts have emerged. From over-the-phone or video support, counselling or tutoring, to 'boredom buster' bags and delicious social meals, our staff are doing everything they can to safely connect and care for people and families.

Technology is playing a vital role as we turn many of our face-to-face services to the virtual world. Our staff are increasingly using a range of digital platforms to connect with people including telehealth options, use of video conferencing platforms, social media and phone calls.

In Ipswich in Queensland, tutors from our HIPPY (Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters) program are now teaching students remotely over the phone and online. Our staff have shared how excited the children are to have some fun, connect with their tutors and to be able to keep learning from home. Our children’s services team in Tasmania have also created a private YouTube channel for our families and Educators to view and play interactive videos to their children. At our three aged care facilities, our staff have facilitated virtual visits through Skype and FaceTime for family and friends of people living at our aged care facilities.

Much like real estate agents have adapted, Mission Australia Housing are currently developing a model to conduct virtual property inspections. In NSW, SMART Recovery Australia and Mission Australia are delivering group meetings online for individuals wanting to take control of addictive behaviours, such as problem gambling. In Cloverdale WA, to lift spirits, our multi-faceted Local Area Coordination staff have even tried their feet at a TikTok dance.

There are many other ways our staff are strengthening their local communities across Australia while maintaining a safe distance. They are leading initiatives as well as collaborating with local businesses, organisations, churches and charities to help provide important items such as food, laptops as well as basic supply packs to ensure people have access to the items they need.

From our Inala-based Circles of Care program, to our Goulburn Place Plan team, to Claymore and over at our Connections Program in Broken Hill, our staff have distributed tailored care packs which include activities to entertain, as well as information detailing how to connect with services and stay safe and well. Up in the top end in Darwin, our local services alongside GIVIT have managed to source 6,000 essential items to give to locals such as clothing, toiletries, linen and other essentials.

Turning to food, Mission Australia’s social enterprise restaurant in Melbourne, Charcoal Lane has pivoted to not only provide a takeaway dinner menu starring native ingredients, but are also providing meals to vulnerable locals in collaboration with local councils, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and other local Aboriginal organisations.

Across the Bass Strait to Tasmania, together with Clarendon Vale Neighbourhood Centre and volunteers, our Youth Beat van has transformed into a delivery van to help provide food relief meals to vulnerable young people and their families. Similarly in Sydney, our iconic 40-year-old Missionbeat service has teamed up with The Exodus Foundation to provide meals for Sydney-siders facing homelessness while continuing to patrol the streets and respond to calls for assistance.

For our residential services which remain open, our staff are ensuring rigorous infection control, hygiene and social distancing measures, a range of safely distanced activities and tailored care for everyone they serve. For example, at our Youth Accommodation Support Services in Western Australia, inflatable activities were kindly provided by a local church to ensure young people who live there have a fun and appropriately distanced outlet to stay active.

At Triple Care Farm youth alcohol and other drug withdrawal and residential rehabilitation service in NSW’s Southern Highlands, staff have successfully provided remote rehabilitation and aftercare services. Now, thanks to a partnership with a local COVID-19 testing clinic and the arrival of Personal Protective Equipment, they are able to continue to safely support young people onsite. These are young people who are at a stage where they are ready to get their lives back on track, and staff stand ready to safely support them on this journey.

Very early in the piece, our aged care facilities which provide accommodation and care for many people who have been homeless recognised the need for early action. Our staff increased COVID-19 infection control training, assisted everyone to maximise hygiene and cleanliness, and are conducting regular temperature checks. Our partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens Community Greening program has only flourished at this time, with their team busy creating an impressive outdoor yarning circle and fire pit area for use of consumers at our Benjamin Short Grove facility in Orange, when it is safe to do so.

We have now launched our new winter appeal which features frontline staff speaking from the heart about the extra pressures faced by people who are homeless and Australia’s most vulnerable at this time. I encourage everyone who can, to consider donating to our charity, so we can continue to support vulnerable Australians facing tough times.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, it remains ever important that we band together to do everything we can to protect each other, particularly our most vulnerable. So that we can recover quickly and pave the way for a better future. It’s clear that our staff know this, and I see our people living this philosophy out every day, and in every way.

We are all part of a pivotal moment in history. We stand at the precipice of opportunity for all levels of government, businesses, communities, churches, charities and individuals to do everything we can to support and care for our most vulnerable members of our community now, and in a post-Coronavirus Australia.

Photo of James Toomey, CEO of Mission Australia

 

James Toomey
CEO Mission Australia
@jbc_toomey

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Purpose - 'Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God'