A lack of housing is the biggest challenge facing disadvantaged and isolated people in the south-west, a new report reveals.
The Catholic Social Services Victoria (CSSV) report released this week outlined the social service and infrastructure needs of rural and regional communities in Warrnambool and surrounding areas.
The report reflects the experience of people working in their local communities with individuals and groups who face isolation, disadvantage and circumstances further exacerbated by COVID19.
Centacare chief executive Tony Fitzgerald said the report showed a lack of housing was "the biggest single issue facing the region".
"The low level of pensions and benefits, increasing debt, unaffordable rent levels and relationship breakdown has resulted in increasing numbers of people in housing stress and seeking housing and homelessness assistance," he said.
"Furthermore, the cost of living pressure has increased the number of requests for assistance and emergency relief. Community meals and breakfast clubs are provided every day of the week by a range of service and community clubs, churches and schools across Warrnambool."
Anglicare community development coordinator Louise Serra said lack of housing and long-term support was a huge disadvantage for people in Warrnambool.
"Our social housing is phenomenally high," she said.
"We have one of the lowest amount of houses on the ground compared to anywhere in the state.
"With social housing, you need support for people moving into these houses and whilst we have some fantastic short-term support through our agencies, we need more long-term support."
Anglicare welcomes about 20 people into its drop-in centre every morning and the numbers continue to grow each year.
Ms Serra said the region's housing shortages affected not only those who were disadvantaged or employed but people with work as well.
"Housing affects people just like you and me," she said.
"These people can be managing well in every other way but their wage isn't enough to afford rent.
"With more housing available and service support we can help these people."
The CSSV report also identified mental health as significant factor for those seeking assistance.
It said Warrnambool had "few psychosocial mental health programs" and people had to leave the region to receive ongoing mental health and specialist treatment.
South West Healthcare chief executive Craig Fraser said the report further emphasised the organisation's submission to Victoria's Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System.
"Yesterday, the Royal Commission made public the witness statement of our Mental Health Services executive director Karyn Cook," he said.
"This statement strongly advocates for the needs, and rights, of rural people to be able to access the same quality of mental health services and resources as our metropolitan counterparts.
"We fully understand and appreciate the issues the south-west region faces in regards to geography and mental health service provision and we look forward to the Royal Commission's final recommendations and guidance on how we can implement them."
It found issues were exacerbated by the "tyranny of distance" and inadequate public transport many regional and rural communities faced, the report revealed.
Warrnambool's Darren Dorey, who was diagnosed as visually impaired in 2007, said he was unable to rely on the city's public transport to get to and from his job as a mental health support worker at South West Healthcare.
"Being visually impaired, I don't drive at all but the buses here are really hard," he said.
"I can't read the timetables and the time it takes to get from A to B is crazy. If I could drive, it would take me eight minutes from my home to work but to catch the public transport it would take me an hour.
"That would include taking one bus, walking 10 minutes to another bus and then walking to work from there."
Instead, Mr Dorey's wife drives him to work and he catches a taxi home.
"It's the easiest way but it gets expensive," he said.
"I work part-time and you're looking at $60 a week. And sometimes I've waited over 40 minutes for a taxi."
The CSSV report outlined a number of practical recommendations, which have been submitted to Infrastructure Victoria to assist in the development of their 2020 update to the state's 30-Year Infrastructure Strategy.
The recommendations included the need to improve public transport, resourcing for social and mental health services, reducing homelessness and housing stress, and improving access to digital technology.
The report acknowledged the south-west's "vibrant volunteer base and committed social service agencies who work alongside some of the most vulnerable people in Victoria", stating that improved infrastructure would dramatically help those people.
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