This is one of the most important updates I’ve ever written as CEO of Concern Australia.
We are facing an unprecedented crisis that is forcing our team to make decisions I never imagined we would have to face.
These decisions have already resulted in scaling back or cancelling programs that are a lifeline to children and young people, and put programs that are providing life-saving support and connection right now at risk, when they need it most.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having an unimaginable impact on our services for young people and our ability to raise funds. We have had to postpone programs such as Values for Life and elements of Hand Brake Turn that generate vital income that enables us to continue our work.
Even more crucially, our Steps Outreach Service team is facing challenges that they have never before encountered in their 35 years of supporting young people experiencing homelessness.
These young people are some of the most critically at risk from this crisis.
Can you imagine living on the street with no access to proper hygiene or in a dirty, unsafe boarding house, knowing that you’re particularly vulnerable to catching COVID-19?
It’s a dangerous situation for young people who already have a range of health issues from years of sleeping rough. Many of these young people live with ongoing mental health issues – and we are fearful that the mental health toll of this current crisis will be staggering if they don’t get the support they need.
Right now, personal safety means the Steps team aren’t allowed to meet these young people in person. They’re having to find creative ways to provide support, but it’s very difficult.
And in the midst of it all, Steps is facing a massive shortfall in funding. It’s harder than ever to get people to donate. Put simply, the need is greater, the COVID-19 crisis makes it harder, and there’s less money available to support this work at a time when young people are most at risk.
We need your support to ensure some of the most vulnerable young people in our community get the help they need right now.
Anne Mitchell leads the Steps Outreach Service team. She told me just how tough things are at the moment.
“Young people living with mental health issues are more affected by this pandemic because they may already be scared or lonely. They need people to talk to who will let them know that it’s going to be OK,” Anne said.
“Being isolated in their own world is not helpful for them. They can revert to self-harming, or abusing substances or alcohol in an attempt to find comfort.
“For the people who are sleeping rough, or go into the city to get food from services that are now not open, they miss the companionship, their friends, but they also miss out on the material aid that they would usually access from services such as Steps – things such as basic food supplies, or a new jumper, or a blanket, or toiletries.
“We can’t have face-to-face contact at the moment. It’s very difficult, we care about them very much, we want to be there for them and walk alongside them.
“But a lot of these young people don’t have computers, internet connection, or even a phone. If they do have phones, they don’t have the ability to do video calls. It makes it really difficult to provide connection and encouragement to these young people who are so fragile and at risk.”
Anne and her team are doing everything they can to be there for these young people. Right now, they are:
- Co-ordinating the delivery of care packages of essentials, including hand sanitizer, toilet paper and food.
- Calling young people regularly to provide connection, support, and guide them through this difficult time, including advice on how to stay safe and connecting them with other support services such as online or phone counselling.
- Providing phones and phone credit when young people don’t have the means to stay connected.
Anne told me that if we don’t get the donations we need now, things will be pretty grim.
“Financially we may not be able to keep going,” Anne said. “That would be a disaster for our young people, as they would be let down, and they have been let down by so many people in their lives. We don’t want to be that person or that service that lets them down.”
Can you imagine what this time of social restrictions and the health threat of COVID-19 would be like if you were homeless, or in tenuous accommodation?
Anne told me that one of the biggest priorities for the Steps team is making sure those young people who have temporary accommodation don’t relapse into absolute homelessness again because of this crisis.
“A lot of people are living in accommodation that’s unstable. We are supporting them so they stay as healthy as possible and don’t lose their housing. We make sure that we understand their rights, help them to understand, and advocate for them if they can’t do it for themselves.”
Maintaining relationships with these young people and letting them know they are loved is so important for helping them get through this tough time. It’s only just started, and we need to be with them for the long haul, letting them know it will end, and helping them to maintain perspective and hope.
It’s a difficult time for everyone in our community and around the world. Thank you for your heart of compassion, and for taking the time to read this. I wouldn’t be writing this if this weren’t so important.
The young people experiencing homelessness and those at-risk who we support through our work need your help more than ever right now.
That’s why your gift today is so urgent. Please help me to keep programs such as Steps up and running right now by making a secure online donation or calling us on 03 9470 2972.
Chief Executive Officer
PS: During this time of social restrictions, we can’t rely on the mail getting through. Please make sure you make your donation securely on our website, or call us on 03 9470 2972.
- If you have respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties please call the COVID-19 emergency number immediately: 1800 675 398.
- If you need any information or help about COVID-19 please call the Government COVID-19 helpline on 1800 020 080, or visit the Federal Government’s COVID-19 website.
- If you’re struggling with being alone or the impact of social restrictions, I encourage you to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 and talk through what you’re feeling.