The federal government has announced it will provide $122,500 to Switchboard Victoria for its Out and About program, which was previously at risk of collapsing under funding cuts announced by the government late last year.

Switchboard was informed of the impending cuts in December, which would have seen the organisation lose two-thirds of its funding normally provided through the Community Visitors Scheme.

In response, Switchboard attempted to fundraise more than $300,000, with Labor announcing it would step in to save Out and About if the party were to win the next federal election.

However, in an announcement made by Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, the federal government has now committed to providing Switchboard with funding for its Out and About program, enabling the organisation to fund 65 volunteer positions.

“It is critical that support for senior LGBTI Australians is strong, accessible, and sensitive to individuals’ needs,” he said.

“This funding means the incredible team of dedicated Switchboard volunteers can provide help to those who are socially isolated or at risk of loneliness.

“Our capacity to reach out and lend a helping hand is a measure of the strength of our community.”

It is understood that Liberal Senator Dean Smith helped to advocate for the refund after a number of community members reached out to him about the issue, including JOY 94.9’s David McCarthy.

“[Smith] followed up on many occasions to get the result,” McCarthy said.

“He took the issue on with full force and didn’t take no for an answer.”

Switchboard is the only LGBTI-specific provider of the Community Visitors Scheme in Victoria.

The Out and About program seeks to reduce the social isolation experienced by older LGBTI people via a community visitors program.

The program helps to counter the abuse and loneliness experienced by ageing members of the community, for whom discrimination is common in aged care facilities where their specific needs are not catered for or their identity is erased.

Speaking to Dean Arcuri at the announcement of the funding, Chief Executive of Switchboard Joe Ball said it was “a victory for our LGBTI elders”.

“I feel really deep relief. I know we do amazing work at Switchboard – I know the work our volunteers do is life changing, life altering, and life improving, and now we can go ahead and do it,” they said.

“We’ve been fighting a campaign against defunding, we’ve won, and now we’ll get back to what we do best.”

Wyatt said it was vital for LGBTI people to have the same opportunities to access support as all other Australians.

“I am passionate about securing equal rights and equal access to services for all Australians, especially LGBTI Australians,” he said.

We know senior LGBTI people are more likely to have experienced stigma and discrimination during their lives.

“I congratulate Switchboard on its tireless work to help ensure they can live their later years to the full, with friendship and good company.”

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