CHILDREN are going hungry and people are struggling to access mental health services, Bendigo residents have told the council.
A report has revealed people's health and wellbeing concerns, informed by several months of community engagement.
Issues raised range from the need to travel for mental health services to a desire for more safe meeting spaces.
More than 1400 people gave their insights during face-to-face meetings, workshops and events staged during January and February.
Council also received more than 430 responses to an online survey, and the Bendigo Library collected and displayed more than 1000 written feedback cards.
Mental health, homelessness and food insecurity emerged as some of the community's most pressing concerns.
Specific priorities were also identified for people with disability, early years, young people and older adults.
The information will shape a new strategy the city is developing.
The All Ages All Abilities Action Plan will replace several of the city's previous plans, including Positive Ageing, Municipal Early Years, Community Access and Inclusion and Youth Strategies.
It also links in with a number of other strategies, including the city's health and wellbeing plan.
Bendigo mayor Margaret O'Rourke said the action plan would help guide the city's actions in improving and promoting health and wellbeing for all community members.
"It has been an important piece of work given we have a growing population forecast for all age groups and the city's overall population is expected to exceed 155,000 by 2036," she said.
The city is working towards an October start date for the plan.
The report released this month is a draft issues and opportunities paper. The city has invited further community feedback on the document.
Residents should expect another report summarising any additional feedback before the issues and opportunity report and action plan are finalised and return before the council for endorsement.
Residents share their health and wellbeing concerns
ONE in five children in Bendigo deal with food insecurity on a daily basis, a report says.
And access to mental health services remains a key mental health issue for residents of all ages.
These are just two of a number of health and wellbeing issues Bendigo residents shared with the council during a two-month consultation process.
The 20-page draft All Ages All Abilities Issues and Opportunities Report outlines key concerns affecting people in the local government area.
The report lists issues of particular relevance to people with disability, early years, young people and older residents.
It also details concerns in five categories: healthy and well, safe and secure, able to participate, connected to community, and liveable.
'Safe and secure'
A perceived increase in homelessness is one of the top issues identified in the 'safe and secure' category.
The draft report notes children are among those particularly concerned, with calls for more support and shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
The document also highlights a need for more safe meeting spaces where people can gather.
"This feedback included not only physical safety, but also welcoming, open places where people feel comfortable to share ideas and opinions," the report states.
Hargreaves Mall has been identified as a public place where people feel unsafe, with calls for an increased police presence to deter anti-social behaviour.
The city plans to work with police and the community to improve safety in he mall through "activation activities" such as the Moonlight Market, the pop-up park, and city-led children's events.
The report shows gendered elements to safety and security issues.
Only 35 per cent of women in Greater Bendigo feel safe walking alone in Greater Bendigo at night, compared with 77 per cent of men.
The rate of sexual offences against women in the municipality is 18.7 per 10,000 people - more than double the state average.
The rate of family violence against women in Greater Bendigo is also significantly higher than the Victorian average, at 117.3 per 10,000 people instead of 72.5.
More than 20 per cent of the city's young families have no employed parents - two per cent more than the state average.
'Healthy and well'
Greater Bendigo has a number of health challenges, ranging from dietary concerns to mental health.
Less than 10 per cent of children in the city eat enough vegetables, and just over half are consuming enough fruit.
Food insecurity is something one in five children in Greater Bendigo contend with, every day.
More than 10 per cent of residents live below the poverty line.
Mental health has been identified as a prominent issue across all age groups in Greater Bendigo. Community members with disability have highlighted a particular need for improved access to support services, information, education and programs.
Increased mental health support and services are a priority for people between the ages of 12 - 25.
The need to travel for treatment is a significant barrier to getting help. Residents have identified a need for support, information and awareness programs.
Greater Bendigo is home to more smokers than the state average, and has more people seeking help for drug and alcohol issues.
More than half of the city's adults are overweight or obese, and only 46 per cent of adults are doing the recommended amount of exercise.
Residents say there is a need for improved cycling and walking tracks.
'Able to participate'
Education and employment have been identified as keys to increasing participation in community life.
"Greater Bendigo children need a continued focus on language and literacy skill development," the report says.
"Community feedback identified a need for more programs such as library rhyme time and story times."
Fewer Grade 3 students in Greater Bendigo are meeting or exceeding the benchmark for literacy than the state average.
The proportion of children in kindergarten is also lower than the Victorian average.
Almost a quarter of children are vulnerable on one or more Australian Early Development Census domains. More than 12 per cent are vulnerable on two or more domains.
Help transitioning from education to the workforce is a priority for the city's young people, who have identified opportunities for volunteering and mentoring.
The youth unemployment rate in Greater Bendigo was 18.3 per cent in March - roughly seven per cent higher than the state average.
"People with a disability represent untapped potential in the workforce," the report states.
It has also highlighted the need to recognise the contribution carers make to the municipality, with more than 20 per cent of residents caring for children and/or a person with disability, chronic illness or age-related issues.
'Connected to culture and community'
Access to transport has been identified as a barrier to participation in events and activities for older community members and people with disability.
Opportunities to engage socially and become less isolated were important to participants in the community engagement process.
They have called for a more coordinated approach to volunteering and more formal mentoring programs.
"Community feedback emphasised the need for improved communication between council and residents regarding projects and new initiatives," the report says.
About a quarter of Greater Bendigo residents volunteer - more than the state average.
The most active volunteers are between the ages of 65 -74.
The report says there are opportunities to increase the number of volunteers from all ages and abilities groups.
It also highlights residents' appreciation for free or low-cost family events.
Accessibility is one of the top priorities in the report's liveability category.
"Community feedback from people with a disability indicated a need for buildings to be fully accessible, including toilets, footpaths to have contrast for [people who are] vision impaired, and accessible parking bays," it says.
Community members say support services needs to be easier to navigate and access, with older residents among those in particular need of assistance.
Young people and residents in rural parts of Greater Bendigo say more public transport services are needed on weekends and after 9pm.
"Older community members want a free community bus," the report says.
The report also emphasises the importance of natural play spaces.
People with disability say there are opportunities for improved employment prospects.
Older residents say there's scope for intergenerational activities.
People between the ages of 12-25 are concerned about employment opportunities, community safety and mental health support and services.
Suggestions for children up to the age of 11 include more shaded play areas and play spaces with secure fencing, access to an open body of water like a beach, and a wildlife animal sanctuary or zoo.
Access to affordable healthy food options was also an early years priority.
The draft All Ages All Abilities issues and opportunities report will help shape an action plan, which will replace a number of previous council plans.
The report is open to feedback until August 16.
For more information or to make a submission, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Large print and text-only formats of the report are available from the council.
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