Illawarra residents living below the poverty line are often forced to make harsh choices.
“This is the poorest area in the district – places like Berkeley, Warrawong and Port Kembla,” Bree*, 49, said.
“We don’t have $2.60 to get a bus, when it’s going to buy us a loaf of bread and a tub of margarine… Take your pick.
“What are you going to do then – eat, or catch a bus?”
Bree is on a disability pension, and lives in a one-bedroom private rental.
She is currently receiving treatment for breast cancer.
“It’s not been easy,” she said. “You just grit your teeth, and say, ‘let’s get this treatment over and done with’.
“(You think about), ‘how am I going to eat?’
“’How am I going to pay the cancer carers (a donation) to come to pick me up to take me to my appointments?’”
The Warrawong resident was among those who visited Warrawong Community Centre on Wednesday.
The centre houses the Illawarra Legal Centre and Warrawong Residents Forum.
The two organisations were participating in the national Anti-Poverty Week (October 14-20) campaign to highlight the hardship faced by many Australians.
WRF manager Maxyne Graham said both services assist thousands of Illawarra residents annually who experience social and financial hardship.
WRF also provides a free community lunch three days a week, which no longer has government funding.
“If it wasn’t for this community centre, a lot of people would be starving around here,” Bree said.
Bree said there needed to be more funding for services at venues such as the community centre, especially in the areas of mental health, cancer care and support groups.
A variety of service providers, including the Wollongong Homeless Hub, Barnardos and Healthy Cities Illawarra were on hand to provide information at Wednesday’s event.
ILC co-ordinator Truda Gray said people affected by poverty were often “unseen” by the wider population.
“When you’ve got enough money to cope, you don’t see people who don’t have enough money to cope,” she said.
She said events such as the one at Warrawong on Wednesday were to “create awareness of the fact that people are living in poverty, and they shouldn’t be”.
Ms Gray said the suburbs of Warrawong, Cringila, Port Kembla and Warilla ranked among the highest levels of disadvantage of all areas in NSW.
She said studies had calculated that one in eight Australians live below the poverty line.
“The average Centrelink benefit is falling below the poverty line… The gap is widening, and it’s getting harder and harder to live on the amount that is paid to them,” Ms Gray said.
“If one in eight people are living in poverty, and you’re trying to cover your rent on $275 a week… All the studies of available rental properties in the Illawarra (say that) under one per cent are affordable rent for those on Centrelink benefits.
“So you’ve got about 12 per cent of the population who are under the poverty line and are chasing under one per cent of the accommodation.
“That’s an awful lot of people living on couches, in cars or in the street.”
Ms Gray said it was vital that the amount of funds provided by Centrelink benefits be increased, and more government funding be provided for the community services sector.
*Surname withheld by request