Giving people time to talk

18 March 2022

Vinnies is responding to the floods that have devastated the Northern Rivers by providing financial, material and emotional support to people in need through its network of members and staff.

You can help communities impacted by flooding in Northern NSW today by donating at www.vinnies.org.au/nswfloodappeal or calling 13 18 12.

As President of St Carthage’s Conference in Lismore, Suzanne Nichols is at the forefront of the response to the floods that have left the Northern Rivers devastated.

“To see the destruction in the CBD is what really hit me; the floods in 2017 were bad, but not to this extent.”

Stepping up to offer support to impacted locals alongside other social services providers and government agencies at the Southern Cross University Recovery Centre, Suzanne finds the greatest support Vinnies members can offer – beyond financial aid – is to listen to people in their time of need.

“We’re trying to give people time to talk and share their stories,” she explains.

“It’s the same story over and over again - their home’s destroyed and they’ve lost everything – many are walking around in the clothes that they escaped in and their handbag or wallet.”

Marie Harris, a fellow St Carthage’s member of more than 40 years, has heard similar stories from people who have made a life in the community only to lose everything.

“It’s quite heartbreaking hearing the stories of people who’ve lived in houses for 60 and 70 years, that have previously had flood on the ground, but this time they had it one foot from the ceiling of their homes.”

“Clothes and a little bit of bric-a-brac you can salvage, but the memories – the special piece of China that you got for an anniversary present that had your heart in it – all gone on the footpath in a huge pile.”

For as dispiriting as recent events have been for so many, the coordination in recovery centres has been a much-needed glimmer of hope.

“There’s a host of services in here - the telcos (Telstra, Optus), insurance, legal aid, housing, Services NSW, Services Australia, Salvos, Vinnies, Red Cross,” says Suzanne.

“We just hope that we’re giving some assistance with the money and just letting them talk.”

As the immediate response turns into a phase of recovery, Suzanne sees housing as a desperate need to ensure the future of the community over the long-term.

“We needed housing before it, so we need it twice as much now.”

“The frightening thing for all of us is will the town recover? Will we shrink to becoming a small town instead of our big service centre?

“It was suggested that [the Department of] Housing might house people outside this region, but for a lot of people this is their home, their connections are here.

“It’s the connections that make you keep going a lot of the time.”

Vinnies is committed to supporting communities impacted by the worst floods to hit the Northern Rivers with immediate assistance and long-term support.

You can make a difference by generously donating to the Vinnies NSW Flood Appeal by visiting www.vinnies.org.au/nswfloodappeal or calling 13 18 12 to enable Vinnies to offer a hand up in a time of need.