THE most vulnerable members of our community find a voice through the Office of the Public Advocate and its community visitors.
The OPA is an independent statutory body established by the Victorian government that ensures the rights of people with a disability or mental illness are protected through their largest volunteer program, the community visitors program.
Community visitors operate in the area of mental health, disability housing and supported residential services.
Mental health board member and community visitor Roman Peldys believes the program to be a vital part of the support and protection of mental health sufferers and encourages people to get involved and volunteer.
“We have 66 mental health volunteers across the state and actually have five who operate in the Bendigo and Loddon Malley area,” he said.
“Our volunteers do a wonderful job of helping people with mental illness and disability and we need more.”
Community visitor for the mental health stream Audrey Downing is passionate about helping people and making positive change to society. She says the support provided to volunteers by the OPA is ‘brilliant’ and ensures volunteers and clients alike are treated with respect and integrity.
Community visitors visit client homes on a monthly basis to ensure the patient is living in good conditions, is happy and has access to many services including medical and recreation services. Visits are always done in pairs and the OPA head office in Melbourne is always available for volunteers and clients alike.
A telephone advisory service (TAS) is also available for all members of the community suffering a mental illness or disability.
Family members and patients themselves can call this number and request a community visitor if they feel their rights are not being adhered to. Visits will then take place as soon as possible. Community visitor for the disability stream James Glenn has in recent times had up to three TAS calls a week.
“It’s a lot of travel, but we don’t complain. We do it because we care. Simple as that,” he said. After each visit a report is filled out and filed to ensure any trends or recurring problems can be dealt with in the appropriate manner. A regional report is done each year based on the community visitor reports and provides an overview for government, leading to changes where needed.
People from all walks of life who are looking to make a difference and help others are encouraged to become a community visitor. No specific qualifications are needed and all training is provided. The OPA’s communications coordinator Sally Gibson is a strong believer that community visitors can make a difference to the life of all members of our society.
“Community visitors have been instrumental in the break-up of all the institutions for people with mental illness or disability. It’s fair to say they’re the main advocacy group for change for people disability or mental illness,” she said.
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer with the OPA should visit www.publicadvocate.vic.gov.au