The only dedicated flood and landslide recovery group in Wardell village is still without government funding six months after record-breaking disasters devastated the region.
Wardell CORE volunteer Joel Orchard told The Echo on Monday state government representatives including Premier Dominic Perrottet had visited the group’s hub but were yet to announce any funding particular to community-led disaster recovery efforts.
‘It sort of leaves us wondering whether or not they’re seeing and hearing just what’s needed,’ Mr Orchard said.
Both an upper house parliamentary inquiry and a government-commissioned independent inquiry into the disasters and responses heard repeated calls for greater official engagement with and support for hyper-local community emergency and recovery activities.
‘We participated in the inquiry,’ Mr Orchard said, ‘and I think that a good amount of our recommendations were picked up.’
But while the government appeared to recognise community-led efforts, the recognition was yet to translate to necessary physical and financial resources two months after both inquiries released their reports.
Community-led recovery groups still relying on charity
‘Throughout this whole recovery process, we’ve seen a lot of government activity, but them not actually deliver anything that’s been particularly useful,’ Mr Orchard said.
‘For all community organisations that are busily working throughout the Northern Rivers, it’s really disappointing to still feel like we’ve got to do it on our own,’ he said.
‘It really limits our capacity to deliver the kind of help that the community actually needs.’
The Wardell CORE founding volunteer said without resources, the group had to depend ‘quite heavily’ on other community members and individuals from ‘all around Australia’.
Individuals and organisations from near and far were still donating ‘everything from knitted goods and blankets to food boxes,’ Mr Orchard said, naming OZ Harvest, Food Bank and Orange Sky as some of the charities continuing to support Wardell CORE.
‘But when it comes to government agencies, I would say it’s really underwhelming,’ he said.
Northern Rivers groups rally to fund mental health services
Wardell CORE last month launched a new mental health support service and dedicated space, thanks to a collection of small community grants.
The Northern Rivers Community Foundation, Northern Rivers Suicide Prevention and Advocacy Group, Rotary Clubs, and Lions Club had contributed funds in the thousands towards the project.
‘We’ll use that space for quite a different range of different mental health modalities,’ Mr Orchard said.
‘We’ve had mental health services and support available ever since the flood began and we have had a counselor who’s been pro bono,’ the volunteer said.
‘Opening the facility has just increased our capabilities to deliver a more holistic and robust offering to people,’ he said, ‘and we’re noticing, certainly, as the time goes on, that people’s mental health challenges are becoming more complex, and in some cases more severe’.
Wardell CORE’s new mental health service was open Tuesday to Saturday each week with at least one counselor available every day.
Mr Orchard said the group hoped to explore ‘different types of modalities’ of mental health support that would be ‘most useful and meaningful’ to disaster survivors in need.
‘I know there’s been a lot of interest in therapeutic horticulture and art therapy as different ways to help people access support and process trauma,’ he said.
Recovery volunteer predicts worsening mental health on Northern Rivers
But while the community’s generosity was enough to fund Wardell CORE mental health services for around six months, future funding and certainty beyond early 2023 was lacking.
‘I think if we wait too long we’ll really see the deepening of despair,’ Mr Orchard said of disaster survivors.
‘We’ll see that really complex mental health challenges and PTSD become a really high challenge for communities,’ Mr Orchard said, ‘and we’ll see entrenched poverty and homelessness become much bigger issues than they already are’.
Wardell CORE is still receiving donations, with more information available via the group’s website.