A year of surprises

By Major Brendan Nottle

Well, 2020 has certainly tossed all certainty out the window and the year has become one giant surprise after another. 

Before COVID-19 struck, our café, based on Bourke St and designed to cater for the most vulnerable of the city, was seeing more than 500 people each day, 22 hours per day, seven days per week.

But with the onset of COVID-19 came the closure of the seated service inside the café.  Instead we have been providing meals to people through our café window which faces onto a laneway.

When Stage 4 restrictions commenced at 6pm on Sunday, August 2, I was convinced that the number of people presenting for meals at our café window would reduce considerably. However, yet again, 2020 threw us another one of its surprising curve balls. Instead of our numbers reducing, they have, in fact, increased. We are actually seeing more people presenting for meals at our café window than actually attended our café before COVID-19 started.

The reason for this surge in need is simply because we are seeing so many new faces. Sure, the regulars are still present. Rough sleepers and those that have been provided with temporary accommodation in hotels are at our café window every day. But there has been a significant increase in the number of international students and people on temporary work visas. 

Many of these people are not eligible for JobSeeker or JobKeeper. Their savings are quickly drying up and they cannot leave the country or enter their own due to COVID-19 restrictions. Many of these people were hard workers and solid contributors in the local hospitality industry that has completely decimated. In their wildest dreams they could never have envisaged that they would need to present to an agency like The Salvation Army, not just to seek help but to actually survive.

As a city, it’s time for us to lift our eyes and start to consider some creative responses that will, in general terms, get the city active again, and in more specific terms, help reactivate the hospitality industry. 

For those of you that can remember, the ‘80s was, among other things, the decade of the long lunch.  There wasn’t a fringe benefits tax (FBT) to be seen anywhere, so people ate and drank until their hearts were content. In doing so, the hospitality industry absolutely thrived.

Imagine if the federal government would be willing to put the FBT on hold for 12 months and employers began to encourage their staff to enjoy a good lunch- FBT free!

Suddenly, the hospitality industry across Melbourne would be having to employ additional staff to cope with the stampede! We can only dream – but dream and act we must. There are so many lives depending on the revival of our city’s much-loved hospitality industry. •

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