No call to any of Australia’s five volunteer-based LGBTI telephone counselling services should go unanswered for the next two years from July.

The federal government has poured just under $3.5 million into a new national “landmark” project to ensure LGBTI Australians of all ages will have access to support through a national hotline and online technology such as instant messaging and video-calling.

Q-Life is the project’s working title which is said to deliver a “first point of contact, early intervention peer support service for LGBTI people… who are experiencing poor mental health, psychological distress, social isolation, discrimination”.

The funding, finalised this month, has established a new nation-wide hotline that will re-direct calls to one of the five state telephone counselling services but, more importantly, will fund four paid standby counsellors that will pick up calls that cannot be answered by state-based volunteers for the next two years.

Counsellors will also be available for online chat and video calls through a national website currently in the works that will feature specialised advice and information.

Rebecca Reynolds, managing director of NSW gay youth organisation Twenty10 which also runs Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service NSW, has temporarily stepped aside to roll out the project.

“The benefit of having someone sitting at the end of a phone who has that peer-based, lived experience… it removes so many barriers from them in their lives,” she told the Star Observer.

There are about 200 active volunteers around Australia working the phone lines, but Reynolds said sometimes the telephone service couldn’t always be staffed.

“So the benefit of having this [new] service is that if a volunteer doesn’t log in in a particular state or there is only one volunteer in and they’re on a call already, that number will still get answered but it will be answered by another volunteer in another state.

“The idea of no call going unanswered is such a wonderful one.”

The National LGBTI Health Alliance has helped coordinate the deal and senior project officer Barry Taylor said this was a ‘landmark decision’ that secured about one fifth of the available funding.

“This is a major funding contribution particularly as it’s been said that most organisations have been living off the smell of an oily rag for so long to deliver these services,” he said.

He said they would be “future-proofing” the various organisations around the country, upgrading all centres with new technology.

“The biggest investment is in the volunteers and so through the national project officer, clinical director and national training capacity worker, we really are going to be developing and increasing the skills of our volunteers and supporting our volunteers to help them to do the amazing work they do.”

He said once the funding was used and the infrastructure was upgraded in two years time, they could approach state governments for continued support.

Lifeline and beyondblue have indicated they would want to work in partnership with the new project.

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