Wimmera Counselling and Community Legal Centre looks for a place to call home

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A GROUP of Wimmera residents believe people are suffering because of overloaded mental health and legal aid services in the region.

The group will look to set up a new counselling service in the Wimmera.

Jeparit’s Elizabeth Chivell, a law student, and a committee of professionals will set up the Wimmera Counselling and Community Legal Centre to help ease the burden on residents in need and existing services.

Ms Chivell said she had experienced the eight week wait to access counselling services and it was unacceptable nothing had been done to address the dire need of Wimmera residents. 

“For 10 to 15 years everyone has been screaming out needing this and no-one is doing anything,” she said. “That’s for the whole of the Wimmera.”

Ms Chivell and counsellor Rebecca Norris presented to Hindmarsh council on behalf of the committee and requested to rent an office in the Jeparit Town Hall or the old Jeparit Community Centre. 

Ms Chivell said the biggest hurdle to getting the centre running was securing a premises.

Ms Norris said the centre was desperately needed.

She said in Jeparit and Rainbow alone she knew of two recent suicide attempts and a further two people hospitalised after a breakdown. 

“We need a service, people are suffering and not getting help until it’s almost too late,” she said. “We’re in a position to make a difference.

“Are we prepared to help the people in our communities? That is the question.”

They pair will also present to councils throughout Wimmera seeking support. “It’s not that there are no services in the Wimmera – it is that they are so overloaded that you have to wait eight weeks to see anyone,” Ms Chivell said.

“What happens in those eight weeks? It makes a worse situation.

“Our concern is the people, they’re the ones suffering doing all this waiting.”

Ms Chivell said Horsham and Stawell counsellors were juggling up to 40 clients each and another service was necessary to support Wimmera residents. 

The service would initially run as a counselling and referral service before their life skills program was initiated. 

Once established, the centre would approach lawyers to open a legal aid centre, starting with a once or twice a week service offered on a pro-bono basis.

“We would love to get to the third stage within 12 months but it all depends on getting an address,” Ms Chivell said.

Horsham Rural City and Yarriambiack Shire both have higher rates of mental and behavioural problems than the state average. 

West Wimmera Shire has a higher rate of mental and behaviour problems in men than regional Victoria, while Hindmarsh Shire has a higher rate of problems in men than the state average. 

Ms Chivell said the committee was made up on experienced professionals who were determined this would happen, even if it meant building the centre brick by brick themselves. 

“If someone wants to see a solicitor and doesn’t drive, they have to stay overnight,” she said.

“There’s such a high need. If we don’t get these buildings and they sit empty we’ll just look somewhere else, we’ll go further out.

“If we end up in a town of 50 people in an empty hall, it doesn’t matter, people need this – it’s a documented need. Someone has to do it and it has to be somewhere – Jeparit just happens to be in the middle.” 

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