GEELONG. My home town. The place I was born, the place I left as a teenager and the place I returned to—with my heart in my mouth—after realising my children deserved the exact freedom I had growing up. That, and the fact that a two-bedroom tower block (even if it was opposite the Crown Casino) just wasn’t going to cut it.
Geelong, I’ve never looked back. Returning home is the best decision I made. In my mind it will always be the best place to raise a family. I might be a tiny bit biased, but my five- and three-year-old love it and so do their ever-grateful parents.
But my darling Geelong. We’ve got a problem.
Over the past three years, Vinnies Victoria has recorded a 68 percent rise in demand for financial welfare assistance in the greater Geelong region. That’s the highest rise in any part of the state. How on earth did we get here?
If you find this hard to believe you’re not alone. While I’ve definitely seen evidence of people sleeping rough in our streets, I haven’t seen anything as widespread as what’s been steadily happening in Melbourne. In the big smoke, there’s simply more people and as a result, homelessness has become far more visible.
In and around the Geelong region, homelessness and poverty are anything but visible, but being invisible is not the same as being non-existent.
There’s more than 2,200 Vinnies volunteers active in and around Geelong and, much like the social and economic problems they’re addressing, much of the work they do goes unseen too. It is humble, it happens in private.
Vinnies offers many services, but their core service is something called ‘home visitation’, where volunteers visit people in their homes with food hampers, food or fuel vouchers or other methods of assistance. These visits are as much about sitting down and listening, as they are about offering a practical hand up.
A Vinnies volunteer recently shared a story that struck a chord with me. He had knocked on the door of a woman who didn’t fit the mould of someone living on the breadline. The mother of three was a personal trainer who had never before asked for assistance. Her call for help came after she’d experienced a severe downturn in her business, and she was struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table. She was like so many of the small business owners that I know and support.
For me, this paints a clear picture of the so-called ‘invisible’ homelessness and poverty in our home, Geelong.
From personal experience, and currently within my own networks, I know how challenging it is to run a small business. In fact, I’ve come across women in Geelong, small business owners such as this woman, who have also struggled to stay afloat.
To survive in small business you have to be tough. You have to be an accountant, social media guru, and be across IT, recruitment and sales to make it work. Throw in, say, being a single parent or an unforeseen medical emergency and you can easily be one bill away from eviction.
Yes, poverty has many faces, and some of these faces live right here. In my hometown. Many of them are trying their very hardest to participate fully in our community too.
I can’t stand by while my hometown, my beautiful hometown, is suffering.
Vinnies Victoria has chosen Geelong to launch its first-ever regional Vinnies CEO Sleepout, and I couldn’t be happier. The organisation hopes to raise $200,000 to support people doing it tough in and around our harbour city, and I want to help them get there.
So please, donate to support my Vinnies CEO Sleepout campaign: https://www.ceosleepout.org.au/fundraisers/samanthakrajina/geelong