Food relief calls triple as homelessness rises

By James Bennett

Food relief requests for Shepparton families has staggeringly increased by 235 per cent this year, according to Shepparton Family and Financial Service.

Manger Michelle Attenborough said this year there had been a 313 per cent increase of children in Shepparton relying on food security.

She said there had been a 145 per cent increase in homelessness over the last 12 months and nearly 800 families had accessed the organisation since July.

The service is bundling 120 to 150 food parcels per week.

“What we're seeing is a lot of new people accessing the service,” she said.

“It's not so much return clientele, it's new families. I hope it eases over Christmas with fruit picking but it's only a short-term solution."

Ms Attenborough said cost of living, high rental and lack of employment opportunities in the region were attributing factors.

“There wouldn't be anyone who comes here that wouldn't have a rental price under 30 per cent of their income. And it could be as high as 45 per cent of their income.

“There's also affordable housing and the ability to gain employment.

Ms Attenborough said many clients were on the Federal Government's Newstart but it was not enough.

“There's a lot of homelessness coming from Newstart coming from people not being able to access proper housing.

“Surprisingly enough a lot of the people that are really struggling aren't the young people on Newstart. It's the older generation between 40 and 65.

“There's a lot of homelessness coming into their lives because they don't have a lot of superannuation or maybe a stay-at-home mum with not a lot of job skills.

“All of a sudden they're unemployed but one or two events create drastic change in their lives.

“Newstart is about $500 per fortnight so when you're looking at $200 per week, you're in real trouble.”

Ms Attenborough said the Newstart system didn't help mothers when their child turned eight because the plan switched.

The Shepparton Family and Financial Service relies on food donations by FoodShare Shepparton and other philanthropist groups.

To also assist clients the organisation has a no interest loan scheme to help people use it for payments such as car registration and licences.

“The beauty of this program is that it's not a handout,” Ms Attenborough said.

“It creates a sense of dignity and sense of purpose; it's not credit checked, it's based on budget.”

The service works closely with job networks and Greater Shepparton City Council.

Ms Attenborough said the part of the solution to solving the crisis would be to build capacity.

It would include placing people in similar situations in the same rental houses.

“If we have a way they could house share on a government-type proposal that would ease the pressure.

“It needs to be the person's choice, but still find someone that can share the rent and bills because it halves the cost."

She said the recent release of the council's Affordable Housing Strategy draft was an "imperative" document for the region's future.

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