A DEDICATED group of locals are calling on Bass Coast Shire Council to support plans for a specialised rehabilitation centre catering to the mentally ill and youth at risk – particularly those overcoming drug addiction.
Woolamai resident Shirani Perera, chairperson of ‘Sanasuma’ committee, which stands for ‘peace and harmony’, recently delivered a petition to council containing 569 signatures.
Ms Perera said community support for a state of the art facility – which she believes would ideally be built in the Bass area or somewhere close to the coast – has been overwhelming.
“A helpful council officer advised me how to set up a petition and we started dropping it off to local hotels, doctor surgeries and wherever would accept it,” she explained.
“I wasn’t completely surprised by the amount of signatures we gathered in such a short time because the community has been talking about something like this for a long time and nothing is being done.”
Ms Perera, owner-manager of Woolamai’s popular Claypot Curry House eatery, said local health services dealing with mental health issues do an excellent job, but the problem is too widespread, causing many patients to have to travel to other parts of Gippsland or Melbourne to seek treatment.
“I have heard a lot of stories from local families who come into our restaurant and we have gotten to understand that this is a real issue in our community,” she continued.
“The committee believes this is something that is needed now more than ever and it would benefit carers of people with mental health issues also.
“If we want a healthy and supportive community, we need to start doing something ourselves – we can’t sit on our hands any longer.”
Ms Perera said the committee is in the process of being registered as a not-for-profit organisation, and the plan from here on out is to start fundraising and applying for grants.
“The council has access to grants for groups such as ours and we really want to work towards this as part of a network,” she continued.
“We want to work with local, federal and state governments to make this happen.”
Ms Perera said buying land in an appropriate location is the first step towards making the rehabilitation facility a reality.
And she emphasised that she understands community concerns surrounding such a facility – especially in light of the multitude of objections to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre proposed for Loch.
“This will not be a rehabilitation centre built in the middle or close to a residential area,” she explained.
“If we raised enough funds, we would be looking at something like farmland.”
The Sanasuma committee also wants to make sure that the facility isn’t viewed as a negative space by patients and carers.
In other words, they don’t want it to look and feel like a traditional psychiatric facility.
“It has to be a facility with lots of open space where people can let their minds fly free,” Ms Perera added.
“It won’t have high fences or gates – we want it to be a place where people are free to think, feel and touch.”
An initial fundraising night at Claypot Curry House was held back in October, with support coming from Bass MP Brian Paynter, who was also a speaker at the event.
Money was also raised on the night for Latrobe Regional Hospital Mental Health Unit (Flynn Unit), which is developing a courtyard sensory garden.
Councillors will consider a report on funding support for the facility at the first council meeting of the year on February 17.