“We cannot but be moved by the many refugees seeking minimally dignified living conditions, who not only fail to find hospitality but often tragically perish in moving from place to place.” Pope Francis
No engaged parish can respond on their own. Our parishes are fortunate to have a number of partners in our support of asylum seekers and refugees including CatholicCare with whom we are now in our 6th year of partnership.
For the many families seeking asylum and refuge, it can be quite a challenging time settling into a new country. Many encounter language barriers, no work rights, some experience mental and physical health issues which also impact on their ability to work. Many are homeless. CatholicCare receives referrals from other asylum seeker support agencies including the Asylum Seeker and Resource Centre, Australian Red Cross, the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project and Foundation House.
How does our parish partnership with CatholicCare work? Over five years ago our parish built two town houses to support refugee housing. The rent from these houses is dedicated to the support of asylum seekers and refugees in emergency housing. The complexities of housing for asylum seekers means that we partner with CatholicCare, the family support agency of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, in order to deliver the service. Our parish provides financial support, through our housing initiatives, to CatholicCare which then enables CatholicCare to fund transitional housing as well as provide support for food, clothes, utility bills, education programs and the like in the Dandenong and surrounding areas. For asylum seekers and refugees, access to services and housing tends to be better in areas where there are larger migrant populations as such large groups can help with resources and information, provide emotional support, advocacy, friendship and more.
Securing safe, appropriate housing and establishing a home for families is a vital step for the successful settlement of asylum seekers and refugees. Housing can lead to gaining employment, accessing education, establishing social connections and becoming part of a community. Most of the housing provided to families is in the private rental market. CatholicCare has been fortunate to have been offered some housing at reduced rents from supportive sponsors in addition to commercial arrangements. With no rental history, no employment and limited access to government financial support it is difficult for families themselves to be granted a lease of a property.
For CatholicCare, time is of the essence in locating a suitable affordable rental property in a most competitive market. They attend the open for inspections, complete and lodge application forms and await the outcome. These are challenging tasks in a tight rental market. Once a property has been secured, CatholicCare works through to match the property with those in need. How many can the house accommodate? Is it close to transport? Can support services be accessed?
Our partnership with CatholicCare continues and this year another family has been afforded housing. The timing of securing the property and matching of a family was fortuitous. A family of three adult asylum seekers were homeless and sleeping in their car. Due to COVID, none of them were employed. They receive no government support. The family have now settled happily into their home and CatholicCare continues to support them, assisting them with enrolment into training programs that will widen their employment opportunities.
So the demand for housing continues as ever. However, some of those we have supported with housing in the past have either taken over the lease of the property or moved into their own rental properties
In addition to our partnership with CatholicCare, our parishes have partnered with the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project (BASP) for nearly 20 years now. We collect and deliver non-perishable foods, cleaning products, washing powder, baby items, toiletries and other necessities on a monthly basis. BASP continues to need our support. Donations are not always about money, they may also include assistance with housing options, employment opportunities (full-time, part-time, casual), gift vouchers, travel and phone cards, groceries and much more.
Our ongoing support and collaboration are essential to meet the immediate needs of those who have been displaced. It keeps many from homelessness and destitution.
By Kate Baines