HOUSING, public transport, employment and access to health and disability services are among the areas for improvement in Bendigo and central Victoria, according to a new report.
The Victorian Council of Social Service today published its findings following a series of consultations in regional communities throughout the state.
VCOSS chief executive Emma King said there were issues common to each of the 10 sites, including housing, access to healthcare, food insecurity, public transport, and cost of living pressures.
But she said every area had ‘local characteristics’ demanding local solutions.
“We can’t just leave this up to party leaders and public servants on Spring Street,” she said.
“Every voter in every community should be asking their candidates tough questions about how they’re going to make life better for the region’s poor, sick and lonely.”
Representatives from 26 central Victorian organisations spanning the health, justice, employment, housing, and community sectors informed the profile of Bendigo and central Victoria in the 40-page report.
Ms King identified the proportion of people with disability living in poverty in central Victoria as a concern.
The report said disability was a contributing factor in long-term and recurring homelessness in the region, and finding suitable housing was a particular challenge.
In Greater Bendigo, people with disability account for 43 per cent of people living in poverty.
Ms King said Bendigo representatives also raised challenges associated with housing prices.
She said the search for affordable housing was pushing people further out of the city centre.
While housing prices might be more manageable in the outer suburbs, Ms King said people then struggled to access services and had to contend with associated costs.
“The region needs a broader, recurrently funded strategy to reduce homelessness, bringing together many community organisations,” the report stated.
VCOSS said public transport in central Victoria was inadequate and had low uptake, meaning most people were dependent on private vehicles.
“Petrol costs are high and running a car is a major household expense,” the report said.
“Central Victoria requires more local, frequent train and bus services.”
Transport was an issue both within the community and extending to other parts of the region and state, VCOSS said.
Suggestions included community buses, ‘active transport’ and properly regulated ride-sharing.
“Inadequate public transport is causing informal, unregulated ride-sharing to emerge, especially for young people at night, posing safety risks,” VCOSS said.
Health and safety
Ms King was optimistic about the opportunities to address disadvantage in central Victoria.
“There’s booming jobs growth in health and community care, overall,” she said.
She said the region’s health services and the tertiary education providers could encourage employment opportunities in those industries locally.
The Voices of Regional Victoria report identified a range of challenges to health and safety in central Victoria, including ‘insufficient’ mental health services; a lack of GP services and limited alternatives; and out-of-pocket health expenses.
“Central Victorian organisations want more mental health services, including intermediate services to prevent mental health problems escalating to crisis level, and children’s services including outreach to schools,” the report stated.
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It said more allied health services, such as speech therapists, and GPs were especially needed in rural communities within the region.
More child protection services; fluoridation of water supplies; expanded school dental health programs; climate change preparedness; and heart disease services for women were among the other initiatives suggested to be worthy of investment.
There was support for expanding the practice of nurse practitioners.
VCOSS said additional outreach services were needed to tackle family and gender-based violence.
“Family violence legal and financial counselling services are urgently needed, particularly in rural areas,” the report also said.
More help needed
Central Victoria lacks enough services for vulnerable families, according to VCOSS.
“Existing services have long waiting lists. Too many services are short-term; long-term services are needed to build relationships,” the report stated.
“The region needs an integrated family services model and state-wide family strategies, such as a parenting strategy and a youth strategy.
“Department of Health and Human Services child protection workers in Bendigo are under too much pressure.”
VCOSS also identified gaps in service provision for people with disability.
“People are finalising NDIS plans but then cannot find local providers, such as speech therapists,” the report said.
“Rural areas are particularly disadvantaged by a lack of disability services.”
VCOSS said Aboriginal people in central Victoria faced the challenge of ‘just being heard’, and counselling services for LGBTIQ people were limited outside of Bendigo.
Food for thought
VCOSS recommended ‘an holistic, community-led’ response to food insecurity.
“In some parts of central Victoria, people can more easily access unhealthy fast foods than fresh produce,” the report stated.
“Local organisations suggest planning restrictions on take-away outlets.”
While VCOSS said food relief services could help, the need to build long-term capability and resilience was highlighted. Suggestions included cooking clubs, kitchen gardens, and financial capability programs.
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