Remembering those doing it tough

Bendigo sees itself as a “go-ahead” kind of town, with an entrepreneurial spirit born of the gold rush. You can see this in the shared workspaces, the dozens of cafes, mushrooming housing developments, and the “only in Bendigo” art gallery exhibitions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this focus on success. However, it can create a blind spot.

This week, which happens to be Anti-Poverty Week in Australia, we need to remember those who are not “succeeding” – those who are existing on the knife edge of survival. We tuck them away where we can’t see them. We forget them if we can. But if you take the time to talk to any of the leaders of welfare agencies in this town, you’ll see that there is a larger than expected number of people who are struggling with homelessness, unemployment (especially amongst young people), mental health, having enough food and money to get through the week, as well as children in foster-care.

As a former high school teacher and current community worker in some of Bendigo’s economically disenfranchised areas, I can personally attest to these realities.

Is there anything that council can do? Or is this one of those areas that must be tackled by state and federal governments? Certainly, there are some actions that can only be taken by higher levels of government, such as raising the Jobseeker rate or supplying more public housing.

But councils can, and must, do something about poverty. Here are a few ideas – feel free to share yours:

  • Continue to support Bendigo Foodshare as they supply emergency food relief to dozens of agencies across the region. In particular, help them to locate a larger long-term facility.
  • Explore how to change our planning scheme so that new housing developments include higher percentages of social and affordable housing.
  • Provide outreach versions of council services into neighbourhoods that are facing poverty.
  • Partially fund youth workers in neighbourhood centres in areas that are facing poverty.
  • Ensure that health care card holders and pensioners receive discounts on all fees, rates, registrations, and other levies.
  • Play a co-ordinating role amongst agencies to ensure they are all pulling together, advocating on issues on concern, sharing information, and not unnecessarily duplicating services.

You might also be interested in this Facebook interview with Ken Marchingo, head of Haven Home Safe, where we talk about housing in Bendigo.

(Image credit: “Homeless” by Thomas Benjamin Kennington, Bendigo Art Gallery)