Gippsland advocacy groups running out of cash

Two Gippsland advocacy groups have been forced to dip into their cash reserves after State Government funding ceased at the end of the financial year.

The Gippsland Carers Association and mental health advocacy group Barrier Breakers are continuing to operate in their current capacity with the generous donations of the local community.

“We have been begging and pleading [with government], everything except getting down on our knees for funding support,” Gippsland Carers Association president Jean Tops said.

“We’ve been banging our heads against brick walls.”

Under the previous State Government, both organisations received $100,000 each over four years, which helped the volunteer groups employ staff.

Barrier Breakers employs three people part-time and Gippsland carers has a part-time clerical support worker.

The Coalition pledged $120,000 over four years to each of the groups if it was elected last year. But the new government has not matched that commitment.

Ms Tops said employing the clerical worker had allowed the organisation to open its Morwell shopfront ‘Carers Place’ for three days a week, instead of two and enabled volunteers to focus on advocacy and establishing a regional carers network.

“We were able to establish an accommodation sub-group which is tasked with looking at alternative ways of achieving out-of-home accommodation options for people with a disability who want to move out of home when the NDIS comes in,” Ms Tops said.

“I don’t know how we will continue to manage that if we have to go back to managing Carers Place.”

She said the association’s own funds would support the clerical position until 30 June next year.

Barrier Breakers reserves are expected to last until the end of the calendar year. Chairman Derek Amos said most of the group’s fundraising efforts over the past three years had been specifically for establishing Traralgon’s supported accommodation units, but other regular donations from organisations and individuals for general operations would help it through this period.

“We’re very grateful for such a generous community in which we operate, because without their continued support, we wouldn’t be able to provide the advice and support we do,” Mr Amos said.

He said he was hopeful of securing state funds and moved to reassure the community the group would continue to operate as usual.

“We’re here for the long haul, not matter what,” he said.

Member for Morwell Russell Northe called on the government to “demonstrate its support” for the organisations.

“They run on the smell of an oily rag.They service some of the most vulnerable in our community. Without that administrative support, they’ve simply got to find funding from elsewhere,” Mr Northe said.

Housing, Disability, Ageing and Mental Health Minister Martin Foley said the government was committed to delivering innovative services that support people with disabilities, their carers and their families.

“In acknowledgment of carers’ vital role, the government funds a range of initiatives across Gippsland, including services to support older carers, flexible respite and school holiday respite. The government is also committed to improving the lives of those with mental illness and spends more than $43 million each year on mental health services in Gippsland,” Mr Foley said.

“This includes services that provide mental health advocacy support, such as the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council, Tandem, SNAP and the Mental Illness Fellowship.

“The Government committed $151 million – the biggest increase in a State Government Budget since 2008-09 – for Individual Support Packages for people with disabilities, and an extra $117.8 million for mental health.”