Celebrating 140 years of social service

1 November 2023

Celebrating 140 years of social service

Salvos are part of the fabric of Australia’s welfare system

The Salvation Army is celebrating 140 years of social services in Australia. To mark this significant milestone, experts in the field will gather to reflect, share and celebrate the rich history of helping Australians in need.

It all began in 1883, when the Prison Gate Brigade was established to provide an outreach service for men released from Melbourne Gaol. Major James Barker established the program, which was the first Salvation Army social program anywhere in the world.

Major Barker could see prisoners being released without anywhere to stay or work, inevitably re- offending and returning to jail. To stop this cycle, he leased a small house in Carlton, to provide accommodation for discharged prisoners. Members of The Salvation Army provided further support to find them a permanent home and a job.

Since then, The Salvation Army’s social services have rapidly grown, providing life-changing and life-saving support to those experiencing social injustice and disadvantage. The Salvation Army’s mission services now include the following programs:

  • Alcohol and other drugs
  • Family and domestic violence
  • Homelessness
  • Youth services
  • Emergency relief
  • Financial counselling (Moneycare)
  • Aged care.

“The Salvation Army has been part of the fabric of Australia’s welfare system and we are here for the long term. Our 140-year anniversary of social services provides us with an opportunity to reflect on past achievements, celebrate our successes and plan for the future,” Major Jenny Begent, Assistant Secretary for Mission, said.

“Our social services started with a 500-pound grant from the government. That’s about $955. Today, we invest more than half a billion dollars into our services annually. Our ability to provide vital support right across Australia is possible thanks to the support of government and generosity of our donors, volunteers and corporate partners. The confidence these dedicated supporters have to invest in us is testament to the trust the Australian community has in The Salvation Army to always be there and make a difference when it’s needed most.”

In the last financial year alone, The Salvation Army provided more than:

  • 1.86 million sessions of care across all social programs
  • 1 million nights of accommodation for those in need
  • 1.5 million meals for those experiencing homelessness
  • 86,420 sessions of care for young people.

During the same period, more than 11,370 people received assistance with addiction through alcohol and other drugs and gambling rehabilitation services and almost 12,700 people received free financial counselling.

“This is just a snapshot of the last 12 months. It’s amazing to think how many people we’ve helped, how many meals we’ve served, how many beds we’ve provided to the most vulnerable in our community over the last 140 years. During our history, we have had the support of more than five million volunteers who have given their time so generously to help those in need through our programs. This anniversary is a proud moment to reflect on all we have achieved, together, for our most vulnerable.”

Major Begent said that while there are significant achievements, there is still much work to do.

“As Australia faces widespread cost of living pressures, more people from all walks of life are needing our help. We are working together with experts in the social mission space to ensure we can deliver support in the best way possible now and into the future.”

In August 2023, Alcohol and Other Drug treatment services recorded a 12% increase in the number of people assisted compared to the same time the year before. There was a 21% increase in sessions of care within youth services, compared to the same time last year. From January through August 2023, The Salvation Army’s family and domestic violence services assisted nearly 8000 women and children at risk of or experiencing family violence1.

“Evidence tells us that when people have a place in the world, they are better equipped to face the inevitable challenges of life. The Salvation Army is committed to a future where we continue to walk alongside individuals to empower them to take control of their future.”

To mark this significant occasion, The Salvation Army is gathering social service delegates at a conference in Melbourne from November 8-12.

“Practitioners from around the country will share their knowledge to ensure our collective services have the most positive impact. This event will provide us with an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and give thanks for our rich history of helping those in need.”

The conference includes workshops, research and discussion papers from community sector representatives, providing peers with an opportunity to connect with other experts in the field and make a meaningful contribution to the advancement of community engagement and social work in Australia.

Further information about the conference can be found here.


Photos with Major Jenny Begent and other Salvation Army Social Mission representatives can be arranged outside Old Melbourne Gaol in Russel Street, Melbourne and The Salvation Army Museum in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Interviews and media tours can also be arranged upon request.

1 The Salvation Army, National stream data: summary report, August 2023.

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