14 July 2023

Rising cost of living takes toll as demand for Salvation Army services skyrocket

| Gail Eastaway
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Cost of living challenges are impacting demand for help from the Salvation Army in Cooma.

The Cooma Salvation Army has seen a 40 per cent increase in requests for assistance. Photo: Gail Eastaway.

Demand for assistance from Cooma Monaro services of the Salvation Army has shot up in recent months.

The local Salvation Army is an emergency relief, material aid and in-kind support service.

The team operates two days a week and has measured about a 40 per cent increase in the number of community members seeking assistance over the past 12 months.

With the Salvation Army emergency relief assistance (Doorways ER), the regular amount given for emergency hardship assistance has had to increase from an average of $40 or $50 to about $100 each episode of assistance.

This is usually given on an eligibility basis once every six weeks in the form of a universal gift card that has a limited expiry to assist with emergency hardship situations.

In a similar way, demand for Salvation Army Moneycare services has grown. Moneycare is a free financial counselling service that can assist and advocate for a community member.

A large percentage of community members using Moneycare require help with bills in arrears and Salvos’ Moneycare can help set up payment plans with organisations to help people service debts.

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In particular in the Cooma and Snowy Monaro region, local corps officers, Sandra Mortimer and Tony Barford have been working alongside families and individuals affected by the increase in land values in the region over the past three to five years.

While not an accommodation service in the Snowy Monaro district, the Salvation Army works with supported accommodation and case management services such as Monaro Community Access Services, Southern Cross Housing and emergency housing provider Mission Australia to provide material and in-kind support to people impacted by a shortage of community housing.

If addiction and poor health or an involvement with a criminal justice system is affecting a person’s lifestyle, the increased cost of housing affects them more deeply than a person who may be able to respond better to rising costs.

One community member told the Salvation Army recently that they didn’t have heating connected as it was just easier than being in arrears with power bills.

Others the Salvation Army helps regularly chose to camp or live in transient accommodation to avoid dealing with rental commitments.

For a long time Cooma and surrounds offered relatively low housing costs and rental opportunities compared with the Canberra region.

However the premium cost of accommodation in the Jindabyne area during winter has impacted vulnerable people for more than a decade.

Often people come to work casual hours during the snow season and find they can’t pay rent or afford the costs of living even if working. The Salvation Army has helped a number of seasonal workers in the Snowy precinct each winter who were impacted by the risk of homelessness.

However, over the past 12 months to two years, the post-Covid regional housing boom and general inflation rate have seen people who can usually afford their bills and rental costs, now impacted by the rise in the costs of housing in the region.

In some cases more disadvantaged community members have been required to leave a long-term rental arrangement, not of their own making.

Sandra and Tony say it is because of a number of circumstances that housing in Cooma is now more costly.

They can see how homeowners and landlords who are now paying higher interest rates, may be prompted to put a property on the market to help manage their own family financial needs.

Salvos Cooma have worked with people in need as the low-cost rental home they were living in became too costly for them to rent again.

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It also may be the house they rented had been needed by the owners to occupy themselves to save the costs of housing in cities or in Canberra where they were living.

For a person on a pension and renting a local property for several years, relocating to less expensive housing options is an upheaval and a life challenge for them.

If a community member is ageing and facing health issues this can place a tenant in a vulnerable situation.

While most people who may be asked to leave low-cost rentals can make the most of an opportunity to move, some do become overwhelmed with the situation of not having control over circumstances.

This is where Salvation Army workers have been able to work alongside people and help with other out-of-pocket expenses over the current social housing crisis.

The Salvation Army has welcomed the news from the NSW Government of the 140 new housing lots approved for East Cooma. A portion of this development has been committed to social housing.

For those seeking help, the Salvation Army Doorways phone assistance line (PAL) operates Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm. Phone 8755 7988. Community members can collect assistance from The Salvation Army Doorways team in Cooma at the offices of Monaro Community Access Services at 90 Vale Street on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.

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