George Town accounts for about five per cent of Northern Tasmania’s population but makes up 15 per cent of requests for assistance from the St Vincent de Paul Society.
To better cater for the support required in the area the charity has set up in a new location, staffed by volunteers, to offer a helping hand to others in need.
For the past six weeks people like Michael have volunteered their time at the new base to offer food, advice or referrals to other services.
“Twelve months ago I became more involved because there had been a push for involvement more generally,” Michael said.
Vinnie’s has serviced George Town for many years according to regional president Hetty Binns.
Now the organisation is making stronger links with local school Star of the Sea Catholic College and focusing on ways to break the cycle of poverty experienced by some in the community.
“The essence to why we are here is because the need is here, the need is disproportionately here,” Michael said.
“It’s a great area of natural beauty and a great area to live in and these people deserve their place on the earth just like the rest of us and we are trying to help.”
The volunteers’ ultimate goal is to be there to offer whatever assistance they can and overall they believe there is great empathy within their community, despite the disadvantage.
“There’s high unemployment, low education attainments, there is certainly low retaining of people who go onto higher education, they just don’t come back here because there is no opportunity for them,” Michael said.
“The people left here are those who haven’t achieved, they are on employment or disability, with low income and unsuitable housing.”
The quality of housing is a major challenge, often many have no insulation and poor heating, which ultimately increases living costs.
Many houses, Michael says, were built in the 1950s and 1960s, and are not up to scratch.
“They are on incomes that don’t support living in those premises and the welfare dollar is what it is,” Michael said.
“These people can’t afford one thing to go wrong in their lives, they can’t afford birthday parties, they can’t afford illness, they can’t afford a car to break down – that is if they can afford to have a car.
“If one thing goes wrong they are absolutely stuffed.”
These people can’t afford one thing to go wrong in their lives, they can’t afford birthday parties, they can’t afford illness, they can’t afford a car to break down – that is if they can afford to have a car. If one thing goes wrong they are absolutely stuffed.
He said there can be a feeling of hopelessness but there were ways to turn that sentiment around.
“We use food as a medium because people might come in because they can’t pay an urgent bill or there has been an illness or whatever, so we might give them food to help take that component out of their budget,” Michael said.
“Often we are trying to get them to own the problem, it becomes a question of being responsible and you are always on your guard for people who use the welfare system [for the wrong reason] but by the same token I would rather them use that and help people in genuine need if the odd one gets through.”
The volunteers see “some awful situations” which they readily admit they are not capable of dealing with.
They do their best to help with what they can and then refer people to other services such as Catholic Care, Bapcare and Anglicare.
An important step is finding out as much as they can about the people in need.
The volunteers say that if they can fully understand a problem they know who the best people are to help and the best forms of assistance, but sometimes getting people to open up can be a struggle.
“We see a lot of people with mental health issues,” Ms Binns said.
“Mental illness can make it so you make poor decisions, but also it could be the situation itself could bring on depression if you have a sense of hopeless, people need a sense of hope.”
Michael agreed, saying there was a sense of dignity in work.
“These people here, who haven’t for whatever reason achieved through their education, are left here without that dignity, there is no work for them,” he said.
And without that education or financial literacy many people get caught out with payday loans or rental loans.
It can see more than a third of someone’s income going towards a debt they have no understanding about how to fix.
“It’s about trying to break that cycle, its a generation cycle of poverty and deprivation,” says Michael.
“I have a theory that you have really got to work with the young girls, the women and nurturers of future families.
“I think you have to instill in them some higher education standards and give them some comprehension of family budgeting, choosing the right partner and making good decisions then we might have a chance and that’s why we are involved.”
The Examiner’s Winter Relief Appeal partners with four Launceston charities, the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Launceston Benevolent Society, the Salvation Army and the Launceston City Mission.
The appeal will continue until August 31 and we hope to raise more than $50,000.
Donations to can be made at the newspaper's Launceston, Hobart and Devonport offices and at businesses displaying a Winter Relief Appeal tin.