The people helping people are heading into crisis 

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ACTCOSS CEO and veteran of the ebola epidemic Dr Emma Campbell. Photo: Holly Treadaway

A KEY responder to the COVID-19 crisis, the community services sector, is going to start seeing service closures and job losses if more isn’t done to support it, says ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) CEO Dr Emma Campbell.

Emma, who took on the role at ACTCOSS, an organisation that advocates for and represents not-for-profit community services, a few months ago, could have never imagined the situation she’s walked into. 

“This is unprecedented, but I’m pleased to be advocating for vulnerable people and the community services sector during such a difficult time,” says Emma, who worked for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone in the middle of the ebola epidemic and ran the administration for an ebola hospital there.

Having worked during epidemics before, Emma says she knows how important it is to look out for vulnerable people as well as the community services sector. 

“The community services sector are at the forefront of supporting vulnerable Australians and more needs to be done,” she says. 

“We’re beginning to hear, from some of our members, that they’ve already seen a dramatic decrease to their revenue and that they are struggling, and some will need to make some difficult decisions as they move forward.”

Emma is now calling on the ACT government to reduce the administrative burden on community service providers as they respond to the coronavirus crisis by delaying or relaxing on reporting obligations and suspending KPIs and outcomes services. 

“We’re calling on the ACT government to create maximum flexibility on contracts for government-funded community organisations to enable them to respond to the changing community needs in this crisis,” she says. 

She is also calling on the ACT government and the federal government to extend financial support beyond businesses to include not-for-profit community service providers so they can continue operations during the crisis and through to a future recovery phase. 

“It is really important that community service providers continue to be funded and supported so they can focus on providing the critical support that the community requires now,” she says. 

“The community services sector is so important in keeping our community strong and in the recovery that will eventually need to take place.”

If services in the community sector begin to close, or send staff home, Emma says it will have a devastating effect on vulnerable people, and on the government’s ability to respond to growing numbers of people without a job. 

“The community services sector is already key in the response to the COVID-19 crisis, in particular we’re seeing the important work from organisations delivering emergency relief,” Emma says. 

ACTCOSS is also worried about vulnerable Australians who are losing their jobs, and might face eviction if they can’t pay their rent. 

“People are struggling to get the essentials and are increasingly struggling because they have a reduced income or are losing employment,” she says. 

“You just need to look at the lines around Centrelink to see how much pressure people are feeling.”

Emma says they’re hearing from some of the services who provide financial support and information for those who are facing hardships, and they say they are getting calls from people who have previously never accessed their services.

“These are people who would have never thought they would access community services,” she says. 

“So we’re seeing a lot of pressure on community services in particular areas but on the other hand they’re already losing a lot of their traditional revenue from their inability to do fundraising.

“They’re going to struggle, they’re already talking about making people redundant.

“We need to make sure that community services are able to continue their work and be ready to respond during the recovery of this crisis. 

“We have a role in responding immediately but we need to be there to help rebuild. 

“The community services sector is working incredibly hard and it’s a difficult time for everybody and we all need to support each other, treat each other with respect and understand that all of us are facing an uncertain and difficult next few months but the community services sector will be essential to helping us through that.” 

 

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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