JRS is on the move!

21 January 2021

Image credit: Flashpoint Labs (above). Pictured below: our team receives a huge donation from St Declan’s Parish. As of November, our JRS Refugee Foodbank feeds over 900 children, women and men in Sydney every week.

Part of what we value most about the work of JRS, is that we’re always on the move. The work is never static. We walk with the most marginalised, we shift our work to where the need is the greatest, and we adapt our ways of working to ensure we are doing the greatest good. The work of JRS is people-centred, responsive and flexible, and these are characteristics that have certainly been needed in 2020.

In the last 5 years, the work of JRS Australia has shifted and changed with the needs of the people we serve. Often that has meant moving locations to be where we are most needed or relocating to improve our service delivery.  It has also meant partnering with a range of services to offer more holistic and coordinated support.

In 2015, JRS moved to Western Sydney to establish Arrupe Place, a centre of welcome, hospitality, and practical support. The vast majority of people seeking asylum live in West and South West Sydney. At a time of increasingly punitive immigration policies, we needed to be where the people are. Space was needed for professional casework, for volunteers to provide cups of tea and a listening ear. We also needed a space for RACS lawyers to provide free legal support to help women, men and families lodge their protection visa applications. 

Our initial location was a lovely little cottage generously provided by the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta. In 2016, we took on a second cottage nearby to grow our community activities, foodbank and hospitality space. Again, as policies shifted and people seeking asylum were facing a prolonged to indefinite wait for protection, there was a growing need for more casework, more food, English classes, an employment support program run in partnership with the House of Welcome, and even more legal assistance.

The next shift came in 2018, when we received funding from WomenNSW to set up an innovative new project focused on women seeking asylum and women on temporary visas who were at-risk of or who had experienced sexual and gender-based violence. At the same time, we were offered space in Westmead, thanks to the solidarity of the Marist Brothers.  This meant we could shift our drop-in casework, community development activities, foodbank and legal clinics to Westmead, allowing the Sisters of Mercy cottage to be used exclusively by the JRS Finding Safety Project as a Women’s Space for accompaniment, information, casework support, and leadership training.

Now, after 2 years of operating from Westmead, during which time we have had the space to grow our relationships with parishes and schools, develop community activities in partnership with the people we serve, increase our volunteer base, and significantly upscale our foodbank services, we’re shifting back to Parramatta and back to the heart of the Diocese of Parramatta.  (Learn more about these services here).

With the COVID crisis, 2020 has thrown a number of unexpected challenges our way and as we move towards being able to welcome people back for more face-to-face services and activities, we are grateful to have a new space to work out how to offer support that is safe, responsive, and COVID-safe, yet still welcoming and inclusive. While change and relocation can be stressful, JRS have somehow always ended up where we need to be; with the people we serve namely refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants in vulnerable situations. We thank you for walking with JRS on this journey.

This article appears in our Christmas special 40th anniversary edition of our LINK publication. The PDF is here

JRS will be working from our new premises in Parramatta from Monday, 7th Dec 2020. Please note, our services for refugees & people seeking asylum will still be provided via COVID-safe practices (rather than face-to-face) until further notice.