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Tuesday, 15 May 2012 14:31

Lobbying for justice for the poor

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In 1991 the Lochinvar Sister of St Joseph set up the ‘House of Hospitality’ to provide accommodation for people who find themselves without a roof over their heads.  For the past 21 years, she has lived at the ‘House’ which over that time has provided a home for nearly 1000 people. The ‘House’ has supported a range of people including men with children, women with children, single women, asylum seekers and East Timorese students studying at the University of Newcastle.

“It is always very humbling sharing a home with people who in spite of terrible tragedies and difficulties are very generous,” says Carmel.

Her work as a psychologist and solicitor with the St Vincent de Paul Society in Newcastle has also given her insight into the life of the poor.

Many years ago when she first began working in this area, Carmel says she realised that it was all very well to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat, but what people really needed was professional counselling.

“They also had no idea of their legal rights,” she says.

So as well as being a psychologist, Carmel completed a law degree so that she could represent these people in court and provide them with information.

Her focus both as a psychologist and solicitor has been to meet people in their homes where they are comfortable.
As an advocate for people living in poverty, she is currently lobbying the Federal Government to increase the Newstart unemployment allowance.

She says the Newstart benefit of $486.80 per fortnight is totally inadequate for people to live on today.

“When unemployment benefits were first brought in back in 1945 they were only meant to be for a couple of months, in-between finding a job. Now we have accepted that we often have generations of families who are unemployed.

“I am all for people working but many that I come in contact with are unskilled workers and those jobs have virtually disappeared.

“I am a great believer in education and skills as a way out of poverty. But in the meantime the unemployment benefit needs to be a just amount of money to live on.”

Carmel also continues to lobby for more public housing, something she had been doing for many years.

“In Newcastle where I am based we have the lowest availability of rental property in NSW. So when a property becomes available the owner is not likely to rent it to a homeless person.

“Even if they did offer the lease to a homeless person, most private rentals are beyond the means of those on Newstart. Added to this is the serious shortage of rental accommodation and public housing, which results in people ending up homeless.”

Click here to read more from Carmel on the subject of Living in Poverty and action she is asking religious congregations to take to provide justice for marginalised people. 

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