Space issues push vital services into park

Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs meeting with Chris Freudenstein, Peter Skelton and Carina Severs of the Eden Community Access Centre on Sunday, May 12 in Eden.
Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs meeting with Chris Freudenstein, Peter Skelton and Carina Severs of the Eden Community Access Centre on Sunday, May 12 in Eden.

The Eden Community Access Centre (ECAC) is a conduit for many vital services such as those provided by CentreLink and FaCS (Department of Family and Community Services) but lack of space is making it difficult to provide consultations with the level of privacy needed.

The situation has become so bad that critical services and counselling are sometimes being provided in cars or in the park, the ECAC manager Carina Severs said.

"We definitely need a bigger space. We have visiting services operating out of their cars. We have people meeting in parks to talk about domestic violence. These people need privacy and security," Ms Severs said.

We have visiting services operating out of their cars. We have people meeting in parks to talk about domestic violence. These people need privacy and security.

Carina Severs manager of the Eden Community Access Centre

"Eden deserves better. These services are based in Bega but 40 per cent of the need is here in Eden," she said.

Chair person of ECAC Peter Skelton agreed saying that service providers were working with their laptop in their car or alternatively people discussing their private circumstances were too close together without any privacy.

"It's a bit like the water cooler effect. Everyone gathered together," he said.

"We need a reception area and small, more confidential offices and other small work spaces with good phone and internet access so that people can use the space for hot desking," Mr Skelton said.

ECAC started as a place to access the internet and use a computer but from the early days providing business support, it has morphed into community support, Ms Severs said.

"There is one paid person, that's me, and up to 15 volunteers who come in on a regular basis. If we didn't have those volunteers we wouldn't exist," she said.

The centre still offers courses in computer skills, meeting spaces for community groups and generally assistance with online issues.

"I had an older man in here who needed to book accommodation in Canberra and I helped him book online," Ms Severs said

There is one paid person, that's me, and up to 15 volunteers who come in on a regular basis. If we didn't have those volunteers we wouldn't exist.

Carina Severs manager of the Eden Community Access Centre

She maintains that while there's not enough room for the existing services, there is also a need for more services in Eden.

"We have a massive homeless problem in Eden. Every week there's someone. Last week we had a man sleeping on our back ramp. There's no community housing and then there's all the flow on effects like mental health issues and drug and alcohol use," Ms Severs said.

It was a problem highlighted to council by ECAC's Julian Webb at a council meeting earlier this year when he said there was a need for a community hub or co-service location where people could access a range of service providers.

At the time Mr Webb was advocating for the retention by council of the Hotel Australasia and its use as a community space.

"We have a strong demand for space. We're bursting at the seams. We have to counsel people in an open office. There is a great need for a community hub. We're advocating shifting up to the Hotel Australasia and for that we need to keep the hotel."

Mr Webb said that the centre was happy to act as the head lessee, bringing with them other service providers.

It is understood that ECAC put forward a plan in relation to using a renovated Hotel Australasia at the last council meeting and although councillor Sharon Tapscott wanted to defer the matter for discussion, it was taken into closed session.

One of the aims of the Access Centre is to get more services to locate in Eden.

Peter Skelton chair person of the Eden Community Access Centre

One of the results of the closed session was that as part of council's negotiations with prospective purchaser Neil Rankin, it wants the option for use of the top floor for a community purpose for a token agreed rent for 10 years (commencing at the time of occupation), with an option to extend and with fit out to be at the occupant's cost.

But Ms Severs believes the top floor alone would not be sufficient for the centre and its burgeoning list of service suppliers. Also it would need lift access and council specifically stated in its latest resolution from the closed session that it did not support a contribution towards access to the upper floor.

Mr Skelton said he didn't want the centre's lack of space to be seen as a push for the Australasia though. He said that both state and federal government had seen Eden as "a needy place" and wanted to recognise council's assistance in "the years of subsidised rents".

On Sunday, May 12 Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs, met with representatives of the ECAC.

"With the growth in services provided, the Access Centre is looking to expand its premises," Ms Kotvojs said. She said they discussed "the next steps to obtaining a larger premise and accessing grant funding for infrastructure works".

Mr Skelton said there was some state land in Eden that had never been built on in the 40 years he had lived there and that maybe there was potential to look at building somewhere for the centre but it would take time and considerable grant funding.

In the meantime important services will continue to be provided as best they can - even if that means from the back of a car or the park.

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