The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) recently met with service providers and community leaders from across the Hills and Mallee regions in the areas of health, mental health, aged care, family services, local government, charitable organisations and more, to share information, highlights and challenges.
"The Hills, Murray and Mallee region is experiencing significant growth, and that comes with benefits and challenges. But while there were a wide range of really challenging social issues confronting people in these communities, the willingness of local community members to collaborate and work in partnership with each other has helped build considerable resilience," said SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley.
Issues around housing, transport, digital inclusion, lack of access to case-management services, domestic violence services, and alcohol and other drug (AOD) services, and poverty, were key themes raised at SACOSS' Murray Bridge consultation.
"Access to affordable housing is a significant issue across the region, with barriers for people on low incomes, or people fleeing domestic violence, to access rental properties. It is also an impediment to attracting health and other professionals to work in the region," stated Mr Womersley.
"Access to housing is an issue that SACOSS has been particularly concerned about - and is extra topical now, during Homelessness Week. We are advocating that the State Government make a major additional investment in public housing across the state to help ensure that we have more homes available for people who are doing it tough."
Shane Maddocks, CEO of ac.care said: “Being Homelessness Week, housing affordability and availability is very front of mind and is a big issue putting pressure on organisations like ours and the people we are here to support, plus COVID has added extra complications. Not-for-profits like ac.care are leading the way in challenging times by providing unique solutions to assist, such as our cross-agency youth homelessness housing development in Murray Bridge.”
"People who are financially vulnerable are also experiencing a myriad of issues," added Mr Womersley.
"They have an increased likelihood of becoming homeless, experience food insecurity and poor mental health, and there is a lack of case management support to help them to navigate services that are often acutely needed.
“Transport is another key issue. The lack of a public transport service in Murray Bridge and across the region is a huge impediment to accessing health and other services, and results in older people or those with disabilities using their funding 'packages' and qualified staff to provide expensive transport services to access programs.
"Digital inclusion is also a growing issue for people of all ages. A wide range of people struggle with both access and digital skills, which in turn impacts on their ability to get the information and support they need. In some cases, this heightened vulnerability results in significant financial exploitation and abuse. The gaps in access due to the 'digital divide' is something that became very apparent across Australia last year with COVID, and is a problem that is just not going away. This is exactly why SACOSS has been advocating for more action - and state and federal government funding to address these issues.
"These are just some of the areas in which there are challenges, and certainly the region is no orphan in grappling with these issues. But it was great to be able to discuss these as a group in the room together (albeit distanced), and hear feedback directly from people providing services in the community. This is a really passionate and dedicated group of people, working so hard to make a real difference in people's lives - and it reflects the critical role of health and community services, NGOs and the not-for-profit sector, across our communities," Mr Womersley stated.
Brenton Lewis, Mayor of the Rural City of Murray Bridge spoke to just how useful events such as this can be. "I thought it was of value in getting people to the table, and frank, open discussions were targeted to the core issues in our community. A sense of collaboration at the local grass roots level,” he stated.
SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley agreed. "The strength of community connections across agencies and community groups is such a key asset that can be used to continue responding to some crucial issues across the Murray Mallee and Hills regions. We look forward to what can be achieved. The will is there, the fantastic people and community is there. Next we need some smart government investments at all levels – local, state, and federal – aligned with this community leadership and action in some of those key areas."
The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) is the peak body for the non-government health and community services sector in South Australia.