FOSTER’S frontline soldiers in the fight against poverty were gathered in town last week, receiving some tips from an expert in the field.
Manna Gum Community House’s Community Development Coordinator Rebecca Matthews, South Gippsland Hospital’s director of community health Sam Park and Foster Medical Centre mental health nurse Carlene Hurst, talked with Kath Herbert about the particular problems facing marginalised people in the local area.
Kath, who has been sponsored by Gippsland Primary Health Network, is an expert trainer in understanding poverty.
Far from just a talkfest, the “Bridges out of Poverty” program aims to give professionals the specialist tools to make a difference in people’s lives.
“People have done the training, now they’re asking, how can we make it work in our communities? Gippsland PHN has actually funded another lot of training and we’re looking to bring in as many people as we can from Foster, in particular. But also surrounding areas,” Kath said.
“We want them to understand the work, because the work is about having a head shift, so you truly understand what it’s like to live in poverty or do it rough. Particularly in terms of your health, what does that look like?
“The plan then is to get a mixed group of people together who will work towards a multi-faceted approach to supporting people who are doing it tough. One of the definite outcomes is a program called ‘Getting Ahead’, which helps people to grow their resources on an individual basis.”
Kath said she was keen for people in communities to eventually run the programs themselves.
“It won’t be a 10-week course, and there you go, that finishes. It becomes something the community embraces and goes on with,” she said.
“Where the community goes is up to them.”
Kath said there was no “quick fix” to alleviating poverty.
“You don’t dash in and throw money at it. The question is, how do you work in a community, so people can move their resources to a point where they’re not doing it tough or are able to cope in ways they couldn’t cope before?” she said.
Asked if there was more poverty in the Corner Inlet region than other places, Kath said that poverty was an Australia-wide problem.
“Often a community can appear quite prosperous, but there’s a lot of people doing it tough within that community. Sometimes it’s difficult for a community to embrace that,” she said.
In turn, Rebecca, Sam and Carlene spoke about their own experience of what they had seen of poverty in the Corner Inlet region. They told tales of people living in cars, skipping meals to make sure bills are paid, skipping meals to make sure their children eat and contending daily with the grind that comes from battling and understanding bureaucracy. All this, while your life seems to teeter on the edge and your children are provided breakfast by their schools.
While the stories were grim, Kath said people living in poverty were resourceful. “We need to acknowledge that people who are doing it tough have a whole of set skills you and I don’t. Just because they need to battle to survive. There are no half empty glasses. Everyone’s got something in their glass and they bring it to the table,” Kath said.