exterior - Neighbourhood House Sunbury

Funding shortfall worries for Neighbourhood Houses

Neighbourhood Houses such as the ones in Goonawarra and Sunbury (pictured) are under financial pressure and may be forced to cut back services unless they get a funding boost, warns MP Wendy Lovell, state Member for Northern Victoria.

She says: “Indexed funding increases for Neighbourhood Houses are not keeping pace with real inflation.”

The manager of the Goonawarra branch, Isabella Rosinski, had to reduce staff hours last year to make ends meet, and any programmes that don’t break-even are cancelled “…we can’t afford to run anything at a loss”.

Rosinski is employed to work 25 hours a week, and the only other paid staff member is an admin assistant paid for 10 hours a week.

“We spend a lot of time filling out paperwork for grant money to keep things running,” says Rosinski.

While food parcels are available from services such as CareWorks and Salvation Army, she says the Goonawarra Neighbourhood House is now handing out food parcels in an arrangement with the NorthPoint Centre.

“We distribute those once a week to about 20 to 30 people, we are only just starting to advertise it,” says Ms Rosinski.

“We haven’t had our annual budget increased in ten years,” she says. “We need an additional $60,000 a year to break even without expanding what we are doing.”

The Sunbury branch at Elizabeth Dr doesn’t offer a food parcel service, focusing more on bringing people together via a range of events and social meet-ups.

Its manager Hope Jenkins wants an increase in funding to expand her range of services to meet demand.

“We still receive the same amount of funds that we did ten years ago, despite the enormous growth of Sunbury,” she says.

“We are not always able to respond to all the needs of the community and programme requests – there are just so many more people in our community now.

“The main programmes we provide addresses social isolation. We provide a lot of drop-in groups for adults as well as playgroups for children.

“We would like to be able to respond with more programmes, but we just don’t have the [paid] staffing hours to do this.”

The peak body for Neighbourhood Houses is asking the State government for an extra $2.5 million in the next budget, so regional services such as those in Goonawarra and Sunbury can be maintained. In the 2022-23 year the government awarded Neighbourhood Houses $42m. Branches in Sunbury also receive funds from Hume City Council.

Collectively, Neighbourhood Houses have 5,500 staff, and are supported by almost 7,000 volunteers.