More than 10,000 people have accessed Emergency Food Relief through the North Townsville Community Hub (NOTCH) in the last 6 months. However the neighbourhood centre warns they are being forced to make cuts to the program and lose 3 vital staff members due to a severe funding shortfall.

Demand for Emergency Food Relief has skyrocketed in the last two years due to the quickly growing population, the impacts of the rising cost of living, Covid-19, multiple disaster events and the housing crisis.

NOTCH is the only organisation based in the area offering Emergency Relief 5 days each week to people experiencing hardship. The neighbourhood centre also travels to rural and regional areas such as Bluewater and Rollingstone to help put food on the tables each week.

NOTCH receives only enough operational funding to cover the wages of one permanent full-time staff member for the entire neighbourhood centre, as per the current State government NCC (Neighbourhood and Community Centres) (Neighbourhood and Community Centres) funding model. All other staff are on temporary contracts that are soon to end. No funding is currently provided for staffing the Emergency Relief program.

Sandra Elton, Manager of NOTCH, said:

“I’m set to lose three staff. Without them, I can’t continue servicing our ER program on a daily basis like we have been. We’re supporting over 2,000 people each month, that just need food today. They need food immediately for their family to eat. If we’re forced to cut this service, many of those people will now have nowhere to go. They will be left hungry.”

“With the ongoing housing crisis, many of the people that we see are spending up 100% of their household income to keep a roof over their head because there’s nowhere else to go. And that leaves them with just no wiggle room. They’re in the red even before they go to do any food shopping. We have families that we know are living off our food tables. And it’s through no fault of their own.”

“Some of the other emergency relief options provided by other organisations are very hard for people in crisis to access. Many are centralised in Brisbane, and people call a hotline which they can take hours on hold waiting for someone to speak to. Once they do get through, you need to go through approval processes, and if you are approved, then you might be posted a voucher by mail which can arrive days after you first need it. And even then, you still need transport to get to a shop. If your kids are starving today, it’s no good giving them a voucher which they can use in 6 to 8 days’ time.”

“We’ve designed our ER [Emergency Relief] program to meet the person’s needs, when the person needs it.”

“We travel our food tables weekly to help families keep food on the table. It’s a low-touch, high-dignity program. Petrol prices are surging, and for people who can’t reach a store, they’d be going hungry if we didn’t reach them.”

“What we’ve found with our rural communities is that food prices go up the further away from the city you go. What we’ve found is that those (remove and replace with) Our more rural and regional communities can’t afford the fuel to get to town to buy food from the shops. And even if they get there, they can’t afford it. We were seeing prices of $9 for one piece of broccoli at one point.”

“ER [Emergency Relief] is massive. It’s 10,000 people every 6 months coming through our doors from all over Townsville and beyond, and there’s not even a paid staff member attached to any funding we receive to deliver ER, from either State or Federal governments.

“If the Queensland Government’s 2022-2023 Budget announced this June doesn’t have an increase in operational funding for Neighbourhood Centres, we cannot sustain the wages of these staff members, and we cannot keep our Emergency Relief program open every day.”

“My staff deserve to know if they have a job and can pay their own rent next month. The uncertainty is terrible for the staff.”

“The community needs these people. They have built relationships, they’ve got years of important local knowledge and they’re disaster and trauma trained, which builds community capacity in future disasters as well as meeting the immediate crisis need. If we lose them, we go back to square one.”

Angie, Community Services Worker at NOTCH, said:
“It has been so amazing to work in the community but also confronting to see the level of growing need when it comes to families and individuals accessing crisis support. To know in the back of my mind that it could very easily be myself having to access support soon, without the security of employment, is a scary feeling. We have all worked so hard to grow our ER program and I feel proud of the service that we currently provide. If it was unable to continue, I would personally feel like we were letting down the community and I genuinely worry what it could mean for a lot of people.”

Suzanne, Community Services Worker at NOTCH, said:
“Knowing that if I don’t have a job, then I can’t afford rent, then what do I do? There’s the financial side but also the mental health impact of not knowing. It’s like my hope and my usefulness has an expiry date.”

Dale, Community Services Worker at NOTCH, said:
“I kind of fell into this job, I didn’t really know what I was getting in to, but they say; ‘find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life’. And I never thought I would ever get to experience that but that is what I have here. I have grown up my whole life wanting to do something that helps people, and here I get that chance. Maybe not for the rest of my life, but surely for longer than just one year”

Em James, CEO of the state’s peak body Neighbourhood Centres Queensland (NCQ), said:

“Neighbourhood and Community Centres have supported their communities through COVID-19, disasters, and the housing crisis. They’ve provided vital support from being the first on the ground opening up their doors during a natural disaster, to doing whatever it takes to make sure families have food on the table when they’re struggling” they said.

“73% of Neighbourhood Centres in Queensland are delivering ER across the state, none of which receive any staff funds to do so”.

“People come to NCC’s for ER because the help is local, holistic and accessible.  When community members receive ER from a Neighbourhood Centre, at the same time they can access other local supports, financial resilience help, referrals and social connection activities.  Larger ER providers rarely offer what NCC’s can provide as place-based community organisations.”

“Neighbourhood Centres are the lowest funded social service in Queensland, with the widest open door. Rising operational costs combined with unprecedented community need means that we’re now at a point of losing staff in neighbourhood and community centres across the state.

“The Queensland Government has commissioned report after report into the sector, all of which have highlighted both the underfunding of NCCs and the critical role Neighbourhood and Community Centres play in their communities. The government has identified centres are underfunded, but we are yet to see a substantial increase in operational funding for over 10 years” they said.

“We’re calling on the Queensland Government to support our communities, by investing in Neighbourhood and Community Centres in the 2022-2023 State Budget. If there is no additional funding announced on Tuesday 21 June, communities will feel the impact when vital staff are lost and services are cut at this critical time for Queenslanders. ”

Published: June, 2022