Community service and social work were not in the life plans of the 51-year-old Murray Bridge native who had worked 25 years in the hospitality industry.
But when Bassham met a homeless man in a local retail outlet, who was in desperate need of support, she was put on a pathway that she didn’t even know she was looking for.
“The shop assistant wasn’t treating him very well, so I stepped in and attempted to support him. But his dignity had been damaged so bad that I couldn’t help, so I promised myself that if I ever saw him again that I’d continue on with that support,” Bassham says.
Then, three months later, Bassham found the man and his dog on the side of the South Eastern Freeway.
“I stopped and I invited him to jump in the car so I could give him a lift to Adelaide, and we got to talking and he told me his history,” Bassham says.
“I am a strong believer in fate, and I believe that that day I met him three months earlier was the catalyst for me to move into social work and community services.”
Today, Bassham has a Certificate IV in Community Services from TAFE SA and is volunteering across Murray Bridge to help those in need, including with foster care organisation ac.care.
“The most significant for me at the moment is working with ac.care here in Murray Bridge as a volunteer and the role is as an emergency relief support worker,” she says.
“I’ll sit down and assess a person’s crisis and generally these people are seeking out support with food or are experiencing homelessness. Then I refer them to a homeless service or even to financial counselling.”
The rise in homeless people and the number of people experiencing crisis in Murray Bridge come as a result of recent job losses in the area.
COVID-19, the shutting down of BIG W’s distribution centre and the 2018 fire at Thomas Foods International played a huge role in this.
“People moved out of Murray Bridge because they no longer had that business to sustain themselves and I could see our main street going downhill,” Bassham says.
“Then a lot of people did move here from the city looking for cheaper rent but of course following Covid there was the housing crisis Australia wide, and some ended up homeless.”
Bassham also puts her training to good use at a domestic violence collaboration group, as well as the local council. She says that at both volunteer roles, her events experience and Certificate IV have given her the tools to provide support where needed.
“The council role is very events based, so I pull on my past career of ushering. That can cover everything from NAIDOC week to supporting the monthly town hall events,” Bassham says.
“But a lot of these people also come to these events to connect, not just with our community but with other people, that is really where my community services training is beneficial.
“I am now going in there on a humanitarian level and listening to people a lot more clearly and observing them.”
Bassham says that although this type of work is currently as volunteer, she finds it fulfilling to know that she is making a difference.
She says that first homeless man she helped was planning on walking from Murray Bridge to Adelaide for a Housing SA opportunity because that was the only way he could get there.
“Getting him there for that appointment was important, without a lift he might not have made it,” Bassham says.
“He said that I restored his faith in humanity.”
But despite her best efforts, Bassham says that to make a real difference, changes need to be made on a structural and availability level.
“There is an overarching case management service problem – there doesn’t seem to be one person following a client’s journey throughout the entire process and having that that would make all of the difference,” she says.
“I also particularly have concerns regarding mental health and availability of services. There is a lot of recommendations that I have had to make to go down to Adelaide, but if they are experiencing homelessness or financial hardship that is difficult.”
Melanie knows that this will take time to achieve, but whilst she waits for more funding, she will be completing her Diploma of Community Services at TAFE SA in Murray Bridge to expand her knowledge.
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