Wimmera Uniting Care's 'life-saving' program struggles for funding

ENGAGEMENT: RARE program co-ordinator Mal Coutts and Wimmera Uniting Care chief executive Barrie Elvish. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

ENGAGEMENT: RARE program co-ordinator Mal Coutts and Wimmera Uniting Care chief executive Barrie Elvish. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

A WIMMERA Uniting Care program credited with saving lives and re-engaging struggling community members is struggling for funding.

The Rural And Remote Engagement, or RARE, program was created in 2010 to help drought-affected people.

Community mental health and financial services manager Leigh Cooksley said it had since become a go-to resource for people struggling with a range of issues.

He said the program’s champion, Kaniva man Mal Coutts, had worked hard to make people comfortable enough to reach out to him about everything from floods to financial pressures.

“People who don’t have time or are too proud or don’t have the money to fund the things they need, they’re the ones he’s dealing with,” Mr Cooksley said.

RARE is delivered throughout West Wimmera and Hindmarsh shires.

It has historically been funded by Wimmera Uniting Care, with assistance from philanthropic organisations.

But competing priorities have forced the organisation’s board to reconsider how much money is allocated to the program.

Acting Wimmera Uniting Care chief executive Leeanne Thomson said there were several equally worthy seed projects the board wanted to implement.

Consequently, RARE would have a smaller share of the organisation’s budget.

So the program’s leaders have turned to councils for support.

“We all know and have seen in the media about the impact that suicide and attempted suicide has on a community.'' - Wimmera Uniting Care acting chief executive Leeanne Thomson

Ms Thomson said West Wimmera Shire Council had pledged $25,000 to keep RARE running in its municipality.

She and acting community programs executive manager Mick Clark made a presentation to Hindmarsh Shire Council at its meeting on Wednesday, seeking similar assistance.

The program costs Wimmera Uniting Care about $110,000 a year to run.

Ms Thomson said RARE had invaluable benefits.

“We all know and have seen in the media about the impact that suicide and attempted suicide has on a community,” she said.

“We have many letters from people who have been in that place and having Mal go out there and link up with them and support them has seen them come through that.”

Hindmarsh councillors and executive staff said there was no doubting RARE’s value to their municipality. But finding money in an already tight budget could be a challenge.

Mayor Rob Gersch said it was the type of program the State Government should be supporting, not local government.

“Cost shifting is one of the biggest problems we face,” he said.

Hindmarsh Shire Council and Wimmera Uniting Care will continue discussions about the program.

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