On the cusp of opening a ground breaking drug and rehabilitation farm in Walkaway, Hope Community Services executive manager of corporate services Rob Wilton tells Robyn Molloy how his military background helps those in need on the streets of Armadale.
After an illustrious career of more than 30 years with the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Army in Britain and Australian Defence Force Rob Wilton could not give up on helping people.
The multi-qualified executive manager of corporate services for Hope Community Services worked in mining companies for a couple of years but the jobs lacked the feeling of quite simply helping.
Offered a job at Hope three years ago, Mr Wilton has not looked back and feels again like he is using his skills to help those in need.
The culmination of three years hard work will see the opening of a 23-hectare drug rehabilitation farm at Walkaway next month.
Mr Wilton said it would be based on the San Pat model from Italy and be the first of its kind in Australia.
He said 30 people would go through the program where they would work, train and ‘engage with local community, take their mind away from drugs, alcohol and put them into a place where they can survive when they move on’.
Residents of Armadale will benefit from the farm, with Mr Wilton taken by surprise by the cycle of joblessness and homelessness in the area, which was a catalyst for drug and alcohol abuse.
He said the numbers of homelessness were transient – there might be 80 today and 120 tomorrow.
“One of the things we notice is when you talk about homelessness you talk about the people who have no home but then there are the people who couch surf and sleep in cars,” he said.
“I talk to kids all the time and I talked to one from a good area and he’s couch surfing in Armadale.
“He doesn’t want his parents to know he’s not doing as well as he should be and he’s got some issues that he needs some counselling for and he needs to go through drug and alcohol rehab.
“Then there is the influx of meth over the last 12 to 18 months and that has had an impact, we say it is a meth spike at the moment.
“Meth is a new drug and we expect these spikes but at the end of the day what we find is the core issues are joblessness and homelessness.”
Mr Wilton said Hope, which changed its name from Drug Arm in recent years, also offered Armadale people counselling, street vans to engage youth, information about other services and a youth bail program.
The 54-year-old joined the military at the age of 15 where he started as a Royal Navy clearance diver in the British army before transferring to the Royal Marines and then the Army.
He joined the Australian Defence Force in 2004. He has served in many countries including Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
He gained multiple qualifications including a Masters of Sciences in Strategic Management and has worked as a chartered accountant in both the UK and Australia. He also has a number of other military qualifications.
“A mixture of those qualifications and the experience gives you that broadness you don’t get elsewhere. That flexibility of mind, being able to relate to different people is one thing I learnt in the army,” he said.
“You need to be able to talk to people down on the ground as well as ministers and people in government as well.”
Mr Wilton serves on a number of boards including WA Blue Sky and the ISA for victims of child sexual abuse.
Last year he petitioned the prime minister’s office and ministers for a change in the process for veterans’ medical assistance, with veterans now assessed and referred via community service organisations instead of via the Defence garrison medical system.
He was nominated for the Australian Pro Bono Top 25 last year in recognition of his advocacy.
“I also ride with the Military Brotherhood Motorcycle Club, which is a social club with welfare officers that visit veterans and ex-defence members and provide assistance, social work and referrals as required,” he said.
Despite being the recipient of many military citations and awards he feels at home and happy working in Armadale.
“In Armadale I feel like I am doing some good because there are a lot of people that need some help. Contrary to what everybody says about Armadale, everybody I speak to, they like it here,” he said.
“If they need help, they are the sort of people that will come and talk to you and they’ll ask for help and you’re accepted. It is a welcoming and friendly environment and a great place to work.”
For more information about Hope visit hopecommunityservices.org.au.