COVID-19: How Open Support is stepping up to address rising social needs

Helping the most vulnerable through the crisis

The Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the way we live to an unprecedented level over the past few weeks. Yet the vulnerable in our community have seen their lives affected by the crisis even more heavily.

At Open Support, our mission has been to address unmet social needs since 1990, and today these unmet needs are rising in the face of the crisis. Actions are needed now more than ever, which is why we have adjusted and extended our support services.

Helping more domestic violence victims to safety

International crisis have shown through history to a frequent surge in domestic violence – it was the case, for example, during the bushfires crisis. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Except this time, public health measures asking Australians to stay home mean that women find themselves trapped indoors with an abuser significantly increasing the risk of abuse and potentially serious injury and even worse.

Open Support continues to provide accommodation and support services to those escaping domestic violence, and have extended our services to help even more women – and their children – in need.

We are now providing a more dedicated outreach crisis case support to women requiring assistance as a result of intimate partner violence and abuse. This entails a number of things: safety planning, assisting women to access temporary accommodation, coordinating access to benefits, assisting women to access legal support and immigration advice for temporary visas and other presenting needs.

We are also continuing to support an increase number of families through ongoing case management, which is essentially helping domestic violence survivors get back on their feet by empowering them to navigate government systems, to develop confidence in managing household budgets, to access long term accommodation and much more. We have always provided this support to women staying at Open Support facilities, and to past clients, but have now extended this support to women and families staying in a range of other temporary or crisis accommodation properties.

Keeping connected with those isolated

Awareness around social isolation and its challenges has never been so acute. Amidst the restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19, concerns have been raised over the impact of social distancing and isolation on Australians’ well-being – especially in these uncertain times.

As Open Support has been working on reducing the impact of social isolation for the past 25 years, it was quite natural to extend our support to our wider family.

Before we could extend though, we had to adjust. We have replaced our existing face-to-face fortnightly home visits with weekly conversations via phone, skype or online, for up to one hour. While this allows us to continue to offer support and companionship to our socially isolated clients and regularly check on their welfare, it also enables us to navigate and provide clients access to much needed services and other reconnection points in the community, since services to these clients by other providers have been significantly reduced. In some cases Open Support seems to be the only point of contact for these vulnerable people.

In addition, we have established weekly one-on-one calls with our 180 volunteers. Although we had to cease all volunteer activities for the moment, it is essential that we keep a connection with them. Volunteers are the beating heart of Open Support, they have been dedicated to our mission, and now it is our turn to care for them.

We have also started checking in with some of our donors who are quite elderly, as well as some of our past clients from other programmes, namely those living in regional areas that we identified in the past as being isolated.

Overall, our social isolation aid has moved up from 120 existing clients to 400 people, whom we are supporting on a weekly basis by having a little conversation, caring about their wellbeing and offering some social connection and support to help them through these challenging times.

Improving access to healthcare for regional people

We continue to provide our transportation service to people from regional and rural NSW who come to Sydney for their medical appointments.

We have transitioned this programme, which is normally enabled by our volunteer drivers, to a third-party provider to maintain our transportation service. One of our team members is managing all the bookings with a cab company for our clients and providing a supportive ear to those clients who are most vulnerable and anxious of coming to Sydney where coronavirus is prevalent particularly during this time.

We are exploring ways we can further amplify our services to better help the vulnerable in our community, so stay tuned.

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