By Meg Hill
The City of Melbourne will look to relaunch an old international student support program to help the community that has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council voted unanimously to undertake an assessment of The Couch International Student Program and consider funding a yearlong revival.
The program ran in 2011 and 2012 at the Salvation Army on Bourke St and was launched after the murder of a recently graduated international student Nitin Garg in Yarraville in 2010.
At the time it was funded by the state government.
Chair of the people city portfolio Cr Beverley Pinder moved the motion and said COVID-19 provided the opportunity for the program to be “resurrected”.
“The program was actually supported and funded by two successive governments, the Bracks and Brumby governments, but subsequently there was an attempt to morph it into what is now called Study Melbourne and it has not worked in that,” Cr Pinder said.
“It has not produced the pastoral care that it did during those years of troubled times. We are now faced with troubled times of a different nature and I believe the red couch needs to be returned to Salvos.”
Cr Pinder said the program had provided a safe place for students to relax, learn, socialise, connect with support services, study, and to be part of peer and social networks.
“It was to be part of a community where ethnicity, faith, sexual orientation or even socioeconomic background did not matter,” Cr Pinder said.
“Nearly 150 free meals provided each night and food parcels for those that needed additional comfort at home.”
The program won the 2013 Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence and an award for the most active international student association.
International students have been hard hit by the pandemic and lockdown.
The council recently released a food voucher program for the community but was forced to cap it after 36 hours that saw 17,000 students apply •