Toril Pursell is a trauma counsellor who works with refugees in Melbourne’s north. When her father, who has Parkinson’s Disease, recently visited form Sydney, Pursell needed to organise mobility equipment for her father.
At the time, Pursell’s husband was overseas, leaving her to coordinate her parents’ visit as well as care for her two-year-old daughter, all while heavily pregnant. Pursell was able to borrow the mobility equipment he needed to make his trip possible from the Library of Aged Care Things, a new initiative run by One Good Street where people can donate unused aids and equipment to those who need them.
The effects of Parkinson’s means interstate travel is increasingly difficult for Pursell’s father. Without careful planning and mobility aids “he wouldn’t be able to see his grandkids and family here,” she says. “It’s so refreshing to see these kinds initiatives helping so many.”
Matiu Bush is the founder of One Good Street, an award-winning charity that combines grassroots community volunteering with social networking to tackle major issues in aged care including health and loneliness.
As the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety reveals shameful examples of elder abuse in the community, Bush’s mission to “improve the lives of older people street by street” is more important than ever.
The idea for One Good Street sprung from Bush’s own experience helping an elderly neighbour who relied on him for help when he fell out of bed in the middle of the night. Although a small act, Bush’s assistance had a big impact, saving the cost of an ambulance and a hospital admission.
Bush, a senior strategist at Bolton Clarke and a qualified nurse practitioner, realised that all over the country, thousands of people help others in the same way every day. He saw the potential for the community to take pressure off the health system and help some of society’s most marginalised members at the same time.
When it comes to health care, the community is an untapped resource, says Bush. “Your local Rotary Club might be able to do more for you than your community nurse, but we haven’t yet combined the two together in a model that legitimises the role of volunteers and neighbours as being as important as nurses and care workers and doctors.”
People want to help others, says Bush – they just don’t know how. “Many people want to do work with meaning and want to volunteer, but we haven’t designed good mechanisms for that to occur,” he says. “We’ve also made volunteering problematic because we require interviews, references, three days face-to-face training.”
“Many people want to do work with meaning and want to volunteer, but we haven’t designed good mechanisms for that to occur.”
Bush wants to create a collaborative model of volunteering that skips the bureaucracy. “We’re really open to working with all the other groups that are currently in a suburb because we don’t want to create a competitive environment – we want to work with what is already established, whether it’s community houses, gardening clubs, or casserole clubs.”
One Good Street is a deliberately low-tech platform that links volunteers with those in need via a Facebook group and a soon-to-launch website that will feature a heat map to show where people are helping out their neighbours. “If you’re a member of One Good Street, your street changes colour, which acknowledges the work you’re doing in your street,” says Bush. “We can take that map to councils to show which are the best streets to age in.”
One Good Street aims to improve the health and social connectedness of older people through projects like its Air-Con Clubs and cycling groups. The 500-or-so members of the Facebook group currently use the network to ask for help, donate goods and share equipment via the Library of Aged Care Things, which currently operates out of a North Melbourne warehouse but will soon go national with the launch of an online lending engine.
Aliki Karantzoulis, a social worker who works with disadvantaged clients in Melbourne’s north-west, recently sourced a hospital bed through the Library of Aged Care Things for a client, a chronically ill woman in her 60s who sometimes relies on emergency relief for food. “They cost thousands of dollars to buy, and she can’t afford to hire one,” says Karantzoulis.
The woman, who weighs just 42 kilograms, has pressure sores from being confined to bed due to illness. Having a hospital bed that allows proper airflow through the mattress “means that her wounds will be better managed, and she’ll be less likely to present to hospital,” Karantzoulis says.
Many of Karantzoulis’s clients are in a similar situation and can’t afford the aids or equipment they need. “They’ve fallen through the gaps, and there are no services to support them,” she says. “You’re scrounging and begging people through foundations for funding.” Waiting lists for assistance are so long, she says, that often “people die waiting.”
In Karantzoulis’s eyes, the Library of Aged Care Things is nothing short of a life-saving service. Mobility aids “give people their life back,” she says. “Having a wheelchair means you can go out in the community – it gives you some independence. Otherwise, people are stuck at home.”
“There are 83-year-olds that never leave their house. The people closest to them are their neighbours,” says Bush. “If we can get the neighbours interested in supporting older people, we can then jump in to ensure these people are less lonely.”
Nicola Heath is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @nicoheath