Red tape forces church to stop giving food to homeless

Jerry Gordon and Kimberley Bensted of Nambour are concerned that their much loved Friday night burger service is to be canned due to Workplace, Health and Safety issues.
Jerry Gordon and Kimberley Bensted of Nambour are concerned that their much loved Friday night burger service is to be canned due to Workplace, Health and Safety issues. john mccutcheon

WORKPLACE Health and Safety concerns have forced a service for the homeless on the Sunshine Coast to stop its popular Friday night car park burger barbecues.

Burgers in Nambour, an initiative of Flametree Church, has been feeding those doing it tough for 15 years.

Up to 80 people would gather in the train station car park for a hamburger and to get some bread and donations for the week.

It has provided locals like Kimberley Bensted a needed meal, a social outing, "bread for the week" and warm clothes in winter.

But two weeks ago the church stopped this service to make sure it was compliant with Workplace Health and Safety legislation.

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Senior Pastor Joel Baker said the church was living in a "different day" to when it started 15 years ago.

"Today with the insurance, liabilities, Workplace Health and Safety, food service and all the regulations which come into society, we need to catch up,'' he said.

"In the meantime we have to make sure everyone is safe, credible and accountable."

Mr Baker was optimistic the service would be able to start again "with compliances in place".

Mr Bensted said he had been going to the Friday night service for 13 years to help the money last for the week.

"The bread we get there lasts for a week and during winter they supply scarves and beanies. It's a bit of a social gathering."

DOING IT TOUGH: Homeless man Brendan is one of those who will miss a free Friday night feed.
DOING IT TOUGH: Homeless man Brendan is one of those who will miss a free Friday night feed. Warren Lynam

Dale Dowler, the founder of the Shack, a centre for the homeless, said insurance and compliance issues were bogging down many initiatives which started for a good cause.

And he feared the end of Burgers was only the beginning.

"There are rising costs of insurance and added risks that seem to pop up. You can have a little circumstance that blows out insurance costs,'' Mr Dowler said.

The Shack's insurance policy has escalated from about $2100 when it started 11 years ago to the latest quote of around $6100.

"It's the things you don't see that you have got to be covered for. Someone might spill hot water on themselves, which is really no fault of the service, but you are the one that becomes liable,'' Mr Dowler said.

"We are becoming a nanny state. Some nights they were giving out 80 to 85 burgers.

"It is the sad reality of today's world. My fear is this is going to be the start of more.

"There are more and more stipulations. It reins in people who want to provide wonderful support to people.

"Some people come up with an idea they want to start and then when they hear about the WHS and insurance and everything they have to do, it crushes their dream.

"They don't even get started because there are too many hoops too jump.

"It is the homeless and the marginalised who suffer because of this. They have paid the power bill or rent and need something extra to get them through.''

The Shack receives significant support from the Nambour Aldi store.

"They put aside food and goods for us three days a week," Mr Dowler said.


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