Out in the cold

Joe Rechichi, facing an emptying food-relief pantry at Springvale Benevolent Society. 194969_01 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

As winter tightens its grip, Greater Dandenong mayor Roz Blades has urged food donations for stretched charities that report a homeless and foodless “crisis”.

“There’s a crisis, there’s a need and Council needs to be made aware of it,” Cr Blades told a council meeting on 24 June.

“We need (donations) all year round. It used to be an occasional food drive and that would get us by.

“If anyone can help us out with food, we’d be very grateful.”

The volunteer-run Springvale Benevolent Society, which delivers goods, vouchers and blankets across the municipality, was running short of food relief.

The Springvale-based charity Friends of Refugees faces a massive weekly demand for about 700 kilograms of food.

Homelessness agency WAYSS reports an 11 per cent rise in demand, supporting nearly 5000 people across the South East in 2018-19.

WAYSS chief executive Elizabeth Thomas said often they helped families in private rentals who lived week-to-week on wages and benefits and then fell on hard times.

“They could then lose their job, experience family breakdown, the car needs repairing or they require a new fridge, and they are unable to pay their rent.

“It could be their first time they are faced with homelessness. It’s traumatic for them, particularly if children and pets are involved.”

Ms Thomas said many were being “squeezed out” of the private rental market, on top of rising living costs.

Extensive public housing waiting lists and demand for social housing outstripped supply, she said.

“There are many people living with friends and family, staying in motels, caravan parks or sleeping in their cars in our community.”

Cr Blades told Star News of the simple need for embattled families to feed kids their breakfast.

There was also a growing list of working people living in cars as well as asylum seekers being cut from government income.

“There’s an assumption that people are unemployed who are living in a car. But it also includes people who are employed,” Cr Blades said.

“They don’t earn enough.”

Cr Blades suggested pull-ring cans of tuna, soup, fruit and spaghetti, hand wipes and plastic utensils for those who are homeless.

Staples such as sugar, tea, coffee and flour were needed for stricken residents.

Clothes, gloves, pillows and blankets were also required.

Springvale Benevolent Society president Joe Rechichi said new clients were coming in “every second day” – adding to a list of around 90 singles and families helped each month.

Up to 20 of them were homeless.

“There’s not enough public housing. I see rooming houses with up to eight people in them, each paying $180 a week rent.

“If they’re on Newstart, they are left with about $30 a week for food or utilities.”

He recently paid a visit to a household of three women, all who had lost their jobs and had no food.

The Springvale Benevolent Society, wholly volunteer-run and without State or Federal funding, will help anyone – without any need for a referral, Mr Rechichi said.

“I always admire those people who have the courage to pic up their phone and say ‘can you help me?’

“We put food in their tummy.”

To donate food, clothes, blankets and other items to the Springvale Benevolent Society, call Joe Rechichi on 0409 249 881.


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