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HomeLatest NewsCouncil cuts to services for women’s shelter, youth and homeless outreach meets...

Council cuts to services for women’s shelter, youth and homeless outreach meets ire

Three local charities are warning that vulnerable people across the Northern Beaches will suffer if Northern Beaches Council moves ahead with proposed funding cuts to their services at tomorrow night’s council meeting.

Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter, Community Northern Beaches, and Burdekin Association (Avalon Hub), are all facing a total cessation of their funding from council over the next three years.

It follows a vote by the majority of Northern Beaches councillors last month to phase out existing funding arrangements totalling $250,000 – support in place for many years pre-and post-amalgamation – and redistribute funds to an expanded grants program that all local charities can apply for, including the major three. The idea is that this gives them time to establish an alternate line of funding.

The current community grants program supports about two dozen local organisations with grants of up to $10,000 each. The report to Council stated that the program was “highly competitive and since commencing in 2018 an average of 78 applications are received each year, with on average 27 organisations (35%) receiving funding.”

With two thirds of Council’s financial assistance going to the three main charities mentioned, Cr Ruth Robins moved last month for Council to phase out its funding of the three from 100 per cent next year to 75 per cent then 50 per cent after that, with the charities then invited to apply for grants. Essentially, the three major groups would then compete alongside other groups for grants.

Cr Ruth Robins.

Cr Robins said this was “a more transparent and equitable way for community groups to receive funding and for Council to ensure it is meeting its strategic goals.”

Councillors who voted for the funding change included Cr Ruth Robins, Cr Jose Menano-Pires, Cr David Walton, Cr Michael Gencher, Cr Sue Heins, and Cr Sarah Grattan.

Against were Cr Rory Amon, Cr Kristyn Glanville, Cr Candy Bingham, Cr Miranda Korzy and Cr Bianca Crvelin. Absent for the vote were Cr Michael Regan, Cr Vincent De Luca and Cr Stuart Sprott.

While the rationale behind the decision is for Council to support a greater number of groups via a more equitable distribution process, advocates warn the funding cuts will have a profound impact on women seeking shelter from domestic violence, for rough sleepers, and for disaffected youth.

The vote tomorrow night is a rescission motion, which would undo the previous vote. This will then be replaced with a revised suggestion. While the revised approach suggested by Cr Rory Amon and others would provide a further year of full funding before the planned 50 per cent drop the following year, Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter Manager Narelle Hand questioned why a council currently operating in profit would need to cut such vital funding to valued community services at all.

NBWS Patron James Griffin, Chair Rosy Sullivan Chair and shelter manager Narelle Hand Shelter.

Ms Hand explained that domestic violence services on the Northern Beaches do receive funding from state and federal governments, but women with children were prioritised over single women. As single women are focus of The Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter it misses out on support. Ms Hand said women over 55 are one of the country’s most vulnerable and growing cohort.

“The shelter is currently turning away 25 women a month who are seeking help from a domestic violence situation, and we believe that this will increase to 30 a month with the loss of Council funding,” Ms Hand said.

 “The funding currently pays for a case manager three days a week and about 200 hours of outreach a year.”

Ms Hand added that last month’s decision was made without considering the impact the gap would have on social services.  She was not made aware of the vote until last minute, at which point she was not permitted to speak to the motion.

“I don’t understand why council wants to take away from three proven and vital services to support several smaller ones. If the council wants to be a leader of social change, it could increase the social community services funding for more organisations without reducing ours,” she said.

While the shelter is hopeful the motion will be rescinded, Ms Hand said she was equally hopeful that council would put forward a successful replacement motion that recommended a continuation of current funding levels.

Any cut will impact services to our most vulnerable, she said.

The Community Northern Beaches CEO Craig Stevens agrees with Ms Hand’s dire prediction.

Community Northern Beaches CEO Craig Stevens.

Community Northern Beaches provides help for the local homeless population, or anyone who is vulnerable and at-risk in the community. They regularly work with the women’s shelter and also assist the local refugee population across the Northern Beaches.

Mr Stevens said he was not satisfied with what had been provided to councillors before the vote. He believes due diligence should be paid to assess what benefits the organisation provides to the community, and if anyone is providing a similar service locally, before any changes are made to the funding model.

Then NSW Premier Dom Perrottet (R) chats with Community Northern Beaches CEO Craig Stevens about state funding promises in the lead up to the election. Photo: Alec Smart

Mr Stevens said almost half of the $90,000 the service received from Council each year was returned to Council in the form of rent. He added that the service received funding from other levels of government but it does not cover the full scope of the service’s requirements.

Asked if the move may be an attempt by council to force the NSW Government into providing better funding support, Mr Stevens said if that were so, then there were more appropriate avenues for council to achieve this outcome.

“There’s a better process than pulling the rug out from three organisations, when it could have real world impacts for people in the Northern Beaches,” Mr Stevens said.

“There’s a better process than pulling the rug out from three organisations, when it could have real world impacts for people in the Northern Beaches,” Mr Stevens said.

Mr Stevens said if the funding is cut and an alternate private donor not found, the drop-in service which assists rough sleepers and those in financial distress (there’s a community pantry with basic goods), would need to be discontinued.

The Burdekin Association is the lead agency for Avalon Youth Hub, which was established, at Council’s request, to address youth suicide in the region. CEO Justene Gordon explained her service’s unique situation in this article, pointing to their vital role in reducing instances of youth suicide.

The decision to change funding arrangements has also attracted ire from other levels of government, including Manly MP James Griffin, Warringah Federal MP Zali Steggall, and Mackellar MP Sophie Scamps. Ms Steggalls has made requests for funding in her federal budget submission.

Today, Dr Scamps stated: “At a time when we are experiencing a crisis in youth suicide and homelessness, I ask that council review its decision to remove funding and instead consider ongoing support of these critical services, in addition to a new Community Partnership Grants.”

James Griffin, who is a patron of Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter, said he was appalled by the move.

“I appreciate council want to create a new small grants program to build the capacity of small and emerging community groups, but redirecting funding from these established organisations is not the way to achieve that outcome,” Mr Griffin said.

“The three organisations identified to have their funding cut do some of the most complex and challenging work on the Northern Beaches. They should be supported, and their experience valued, not penalised for their longstanding work. These groups can act as a capacity builder for smaller organisations.”

A number of people are expected to make representations to councillors on the issue at tomorrow night’s meeting from 6pm at Council Chambers in Dee Why. Any community member is free to attend.

You can view the agenda for the meeting here: https://northernbeaches.infocouncil.biz/Open/2023/04/OC_18042023_AGN_2174_AT.PDF

You can view the minutes of the previous meeting (page 15) here: https://northernbeaches.infocouncil.biz/Open/2023/03/OC_28032023_MIN_2173.PDF

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