• Australia has a poverty problem, and there are plenty of ways that you can help. (Getty)Source: Getty
Want to help people in need? Mission Australia's James Toomey explains why donations and volunteers are essential to delivering services to disadvantaged people in Australia.
Nicola Heath

17 Nov 2017 - 2:22 PM  UPDATED 8 Dec 2017 - 4:33 PM

In some ways, life is like a lottery. According to Mission Australia, many people who end up on ‘struggle street’ arrived there through no fault of their own.

“Australia is a wealthy country but, shamefully, there are too many people living in poverty in our communities, including 731,300 children,” says Executive, Operations and Fundraising at Mission Australia, James Toomey.

“While Australia as a nation has enjoyed economic growth, the benefits haven’t trickled down to everybody. We continue to see persistent and entrenched poverty across some sections of our community.”

In 2013-14, almost three million people in Australia lived below the poverty line, calculated at 50 per cent of national median income, which equates to just $426.30 a week for a single adult or $895.22 for a couple with two children.

"While Australia as a nation has enjoyed economic growth, the benefits haven’t trickled down to everybody."

The origins of disadvantage 

Where and when you were born has a significant impact on how you fare in life, explains Toomey. 

Indigenous communities experience disadvantage at much higher rates than the non-Indigenous population. Significant gaps exist in education, employment and household income, and Indigenous Australians are more likely to experience violence and are incarcerated than the non-Indigenous population.

Your level of education, which has an effect on everything from your employment prospects to your health, can be determined by something as arbitrary as your postcode.

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Or life might throw you a curveball: you or a loved one might suffer a health crisis, experience family violence, or the rent might go up the same month you lose your job. “We all know that private rental homes are becoming increasingly unaffordable for many Australians, with those on income support payments such as the age pension particularly struggling to find a home within their means,” says Toomey. “Many households are under immense financial stress and may be just one step away from being pushed into homelessness.”

So how can you help?

“Real change requires the collaboration of governments, the private sector and community organisations who are working directly with people in need,” comments Toomey. “There are many charities like Mission Australia providing services to vulnerable people. All of us rely on the generosity of donors and the commitment of governments.”

Thousands of passionate volunteers generously donate their time, energy and expertise to help Mission Australia deliver programs and services to Australians in need, says Toomey. “Volunteers from the general public, local community groups, churches and corporate partners all play a vital role in helping us achieve our goal of reducing homelessness and strengthening communities around the country. We are extremely grateful for all the contributions that volunteers make to our work.”

Donations are equally important. “As a donor, you make a meaningful contribution to Mission Australia’s services that empower young people, strengthen families, tackle homelessness and increase social inclusion and opportunities for employment and training,” he says.

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“Every donation received is carefully spent across our frontline services,” he says. “As a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission, we also proudly display the Registered Charity Tick on our website, to reinforce our commitment to transparency.” 

As we approach Christmas, there are countless organisations in Australia where you can donate your time or money to help people in the community struggling to make ends meet.

“Real change requires the collaboration of governments, the private sector and community organisations who are working directly with people in need.” 

Mental health


Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. If you or someone you know is in need of support, call 13 11 14. For information about how you can donate or volunteer for Lifeline, visit the organisation’s website

Society for Mental Health Research

The Society for Mental Health Research is the national peak body for psychiatric and mental health research in Australia, charged with the role of finding new breakthroughs, treatments and cures for mental illness of all types. You can lend a helping hand by donating to the Society for Mental Health Research online at smhr.org.au.

In the community

Red Cross

Many Red Cross programs connect with people experiencing social isolation. Volunteers can make home visits and phone calls to vulnerable people, help run food security and breakfast programs, work in a Red Cross shop, or assist refugees in the humanitarian settlement program. If you want to volunteer for or donate to the Red Cross, visit the organisation’s website.


The St Vincent de Paul Society relies on the contribution of donors and volunteers to deliver assistance to people in need and carry out its mission to combat social injustice across Australia. Its programs help refugees and migrants, Indigenous Australians, disadvantaged youth and people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse and gambling addiction. Want to help out and contribute to the work that Vinnies does? You can find out more about getting involved online.

Salvation Army

Volunteers are essential both on the front line and behind the scenes at the Salvation Army. To sign up to be a volunteer for the Red Shield Neighbourhood Appeal or help in one of the Salvos’ many community programs, visit the website to learn more.


Barnardos Australia

Barnardos is one of Australia’s leading child protection charities. If you want to help out the charity this season, donate cash or a present to the Barnardos Gifts for Kids Christmas Gift Appeal. If you are interested in learning more about Barnardos’ foster care programs, you can access more information on the organisation’s website

The Smith Family

The Smith Family is a national, independent children's charity helping disadvantaged Australians to get the most out of their education, so they can create better futures for themselves. Sponsoring a child, tutoring at a Learning Club, or giving clothing, toys and books are ways you can help. Find out more at the website.


Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)

Starting life in a new country is hard, especially when you’re fleeing persecution. Donations and volunteers help the ASRC runs community programs for refugees in Melbourne. For example, you can donate food and goods to the ASRC Foodbank in Footscray, a free supermarket open to refugees living below the poverty line.


Mission Australia

Mission Australia is committed to combatting homelessness, assisting disadvantaged families and children, addressing mental health issues and fighting substance dependencies.

“All of our volunteering activities are designed to add value and meet the needs of our services and clients. They vary greatly, from hosting lunches for clients and supporting community engagement activities, to hands-on work improving our facilities with room and garden makeovers,” says Toomey. “We encourage anyone who is interested in volunteering their time to visit our website or phone 1800 110 578.”

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Orange Sky Laundry

As the name suggests, this organisation offers a free mobile laundry service for the homeless. Originally started in Brisbane, Orange Sky Laundry is now available across 20 service areas across the nation including a number of capital cities and regional centres.

According to the organisation’s website, it costs $6 to wash and dry someone’s clothes. Donations to help out with this cost are welcomed. You can donate to the charity by visiting the Orange Sky Laundry online. 

Disability support

House with No Steps

House with No Steps is all about giving people with a disability a fair go. Support from individuals, organisations, and the community is vital to its ability to support people with a disability. The organisation accepts donations to help deliver quality services to over 3,000 children and adults with a disability. Volunteers fill companion roles and work across many House with No Steps programs. If you’re interested in a volunteering role or donating, access the charity’s website

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

The Fred Hollows Foundation

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are three times more likely to go blind, but 94 per cent of vision loss is preventable or treatable. Fred Hollows had a fierce determination to improve the eye health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Want to find out how you can be part of the foundation’s charitable contributions? Visit The Fred Hollows Foundation’s website.

All six episodes of Struggle Street series two are available to view on SBS On Demand

Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.

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