What I got from BEING’s Recovery Conference: an article by Matt Pasternak

The focus of BEING’s Recovery Conference 2016 was the significance of the home to a consumer’s (or rather, anyone’s) wellbeing, both emotional and physical. I had the pleasure to attend the Recovery Conference as a consumer, and an aspiring mental health advocate. It was an informative experience, one which an amateur such as myself could comprehend and feel a general sense of encouragement.

‘From House to Home’ was the theme of the day. The conference offered a safe space to talk about the various challenges that consumers often face in the simple act of maintaining their own sanctuary. Based on BEING’s research and consultations with consumers from across NSW, the key foundations of a Home are Safety, Inclusiveness and Stability.

The conference reflected a holistic awareness of the different factors that have an impact on a person. It was a recognition of the problems consumers encounter, and more importantly, it was a chance to really talk about these issues from a systemic advocacy view point.

The panel discussion consisted of organisations and community services out there for consumers, from local to national level. Panel members were: Julie Foreman of the Tenant’s Union of NSW, Elizabeth O’Neil from Orana Inc. Sutherland, Maree Everitt  of the Sutherland Shire Council, and Shane Jacupek of the Housing and Accommodation Support Initiative (HASI) team at Neami National. With the discussion surrounding the three key aspects of what can turn a house into a home, the panel described the services they offered. Orana for instance, ran a weekly breakfast that enabled people to socialise and build relationships. The Tenant’s Union was advocating for the rights of renters against out of date or unfair laws surrounding tenancy, such as forced evictions or short term leases. Most importantly though, was the strong emphasis on encouraging everyone’s involvement in the community, and that Orana or the Council can help those on the ground build community initiatives.

The big takeaway point for me was that consumers are not alone, they are part of the community and they do have a capacity to create positive change in that community; whether it may be writing to the local Council or involvement in advocacy groups.

The introductory talk given by Karina, BEING Policy Officer, had me think about what sort of problems exist in my community that I can have an influence on, her point was that that one should see problems as opportunities in the way that an entrepreneur would. Encouraging action is positive, but where would one even begin if they wanted to take a step in the right direction, whether they take matters into their own hands, or do they look for a potential service that could help them. The organisations in the panel are examples of action, and I was interested in what led them to become these organisations that we know today. I also wanted to know if I do identify a problem in my community, what can I do to fix the issue? Maree Everitt did comment about this, she said, ‘come to us with ideas’, and I felt I wanted to do more than that.  The panel speakers made me realise that these very specific services do exist, but perhaps because they are so specific, they might not cover things outside of their attention. For me, I am now interested in finding out about what tools I can use to help me from the ground up in making positive change in my community.

Despite my thoughts, I walked away feeling empowered. Not because I knew there were services that offer help, but because there are people that listen, and as a consumer, know that my voice will be heard by someone. Even small things like a breakfast can inspire participation in my own community. After all, isn’t it up to us to steer in which direction the council or government should be heading? I believe that this is the essence of citizenship.