HELPING HAND: St Vincent de Paul Society's Maclean conference president Bob Harvey and member Judy Skaines help a client.
HELPING HAND: St Vincent de Paul Society's Maclean conference president Bob Harvey and member Judy Skaines help a client.

CRISIS: Families struggling in the Clarence

MORE than 120 households in the Maclean area have sought help from St Vincent de Paul support services in the past six months.

The cost of rental accommodation in Maclean and other towns in the Clarence has skyrocketed in recent times, made worse by the influx of workers on the highway upgrade.

John and Amy (not their real name) moved to the area from Newcastle in the hope that a quieter town would be beneficial for their children as well as for Amy's health, which was being affected by a bronchial condition.

John found work in the building trade but just a month later he suffered an accident and faced a lengthy period of convalescence. He was told worker's compensation might take a year to come through.

Struggling to pay the rent, now more than $300 a week, the family approached the local Vinnies team for advice and emergency support.

"We were able to help them get through a very rough patch,” the president of St Mary's conference Bob Harvey said.

"Working with other services, we helped with daily essentials, such as food vouchers, maintaining the electricity connection, clothes for the kids, and arranging school enrolments.

"We also helped with arrangements regarding their rental home, which was a great relief for the family. This level of security paid off, as John was able to find a job that was less physically demanding, and with childcare in place, Amy was also able to work.”

Without this support from Vinnies, the couple said, their life was at real risk of falling apart, with all the consequences this would have entailed for the children.

"The help we offer includes food and pharmacy vouchers, subsidised travel to medical appointments or job interviews, buying school uniforms for their kids and enabling them to afford excursions,” Mr Harvey said.

"We can refer people to personal and financial counselling, arrange health support and help with housing, including short-term accommodation.”

St Vincent de Paul also coordinates the State Government's EAPA scheme that subsidises the payment of electricity and gas bills by people of limited means.

Most clients who come to Vinnies are in rental accommodation. People moving out of town for cheaper rentals face a lack of public transport and burdensome fuel costs.

"A significant number of clients are in temporary accommodation,” Mr Harvey said. "They can be living in crowded housing, couch surfing, sleeping in cars or in low-cost caravan parks. This kind of housing insecurity puts terrible pressure on people, making it hard to get regular work, and for kids to stay in school.”

Across the North Coast Vinnies funds short-term support as well as personal care services for homeless people, the funding of school breakfasts in areas of identified need, and equine therapy programs for kids who have experienced trauma or neglect.

For information on volunteering with Vinnies, call member support co-ordinator Greg Ryan on 0447 123 109.

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