Mind the Gap: on the challenges ahead for small community organisations

Recent Federal Budget decisions have deepened ongoing discussions in the community sector about the gaps created by shrinking welfare arrangements in Australia. In this article, Michelle Reid RGS, Manager of Good Samaritan Inn, voices the concerns of small community organisations that are grappling with the pressures of government funding arrangements. 

The word ‘gap’ can have both negative and positive connotations. There are gaps between two mountains which can act like a pathway to lead us forward. The wider these gaps, the better. Then there are gaps within which battles are fought, widened when one of the warring parties takes something that belongs to the other side. This is like the gap between the rich and the poor, and problems result as it widens.

The recent Abbott and Hockey budget will widen this gap. This gap is like an empty landscape characterised by an almost complete absence of compassion from our political leaders towards those in our society who are struggling. No one can foresee the future, but it is my sense that the current Government’s budget and its policies on asylum seekers (for example) will create unforeseen consequences that will negatively impact on everyone, but particularly those in our society who are most in need, and the most invisible.

Unfortunately, our current leaders seem to be unaware of how their decisions will impact on the lives of people such as those we care for at the Good Samaritan Inn. Our small organisation sits within the gap that is being widened by the Abbott Government. Being small often provides a more effective, intimate, adaptable and safe environment that allows us to engage with women and children who find themselves at the Inn at a very vulnerable time in their lives. This Government is creating a climate where only large organisations will have a future in the community sector and small groups will be forced to merge to become more cost effective. There may be some economic savings in this approach, but this is of little consequence to organisations like ours whose wealth is measured in the safety and wellbeing of the homeless women and children we respond to.

As one of only two crisis accommodation services in Melbourne’s north, we offer a rare space of calm and safety to homeless women and children. It is a space of brief encounters where all are changed. There has been no battle in this encounter. No attitude of winning at all cost. There is collaboration, and all parties give a little, in order that something larger can be achieved. It is where good things emerge, where there is a new understanding and an experience of support and gratitude. We don’t want to take over or consume.

The opposite can be said of the space being generated by the current government. And while those currently in power are driven by the dollar sign, the question remains: at what cost? As they push their bulldozers through the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, many lives will become increasingly difficult. Through this wide gap, many people will vanish. Out of sight, out of mind. Beware the Gap!

Posted by Pauline McLoughlin

Power to Persuade