LAST week was National Homeless Persons’ Week. You might have seen some flyers or some news stories, some people camped out to raise funds and awareness, but for Trish Wallace it was nothing out of the ordinary.
For Trish, manager of the Forster Neighbourhood Centre, every week is homeless persons’ week.
“Half of what we do every week is housing related.”
Prompted by the national awareness week the Great Lakes Advocate decided to look into the issue of homelessness right here in our own community.
We found support services overwhelmed and stretched well past breaking point, a stigma and misconception about how homeless people got there in the first place and the heartbreaking realisation that there are people, not ‘out there’ but right here, so isolated by homelessness that nobody misses them. No one is more aware of the situation than Trish, who’s confronted by it on a daily basis.
“We’re now in a situation where we’re having to refer to services outside the area because the demand is just far exceeding our means.”
“We refer to the Samaritans and to the New Horizons North Coast Accommodation Project in Taree, which has government funding, but even they currently have a four week waiting list.”
Homeless people occupy a particularly dark corner of the mainstream imagination where they are misfits, petty criminals and drug addicts being punished for their own life choices. The reality, however, is vastly different and most often involves our community’s most marginalised and vulnerable.
“The stigma is huge. But most of the people are without options and without choices. We conducted a survey in March last year and over a three week period we processed 705 claims and more than 60 families sought to access our programs. Fifty per cent of all applicants were single women with children, many of them escaping abusive homes.”
Our appointment with Trish was squeezed in between an appointment with a semi-employed young couple expecting their first child and unable to meet the costs of both rent and new medical bills. They’re now facing the prospect of living close to 100km apart before their child is even born. Another family of four was waiting for an appointment in the hatchback that’d been their home for the past two days, a common occurrence as they move between short-term accommodations. Another mother of three had just left to return to the motel she’s been in for the past three weeks, forgoing food in favour of shelter. The neighbourhood centre is so pre-occupied with crisis claims it makes a long-term solutions difficult to consider. “A lot of people don’t seek help until they are at absolute crisis point, so we’re busy with that a lot of the time. We are trying to arrive at a workable model for crisis accommodation.” Trish says she understands that Real Estate agents have assets to protect but hopes their might be some owners out there “with a social conscience” who could help. “So many properties in this area are only occupied 10 per cent of the year. Maybe some owners could consider leasing these properties to the centre as head tenant so when, say, mum comes in with the three kids on a Friday afternoon and says ‘I’ve left and I can’t go back’ we have somewhere we can put them. We have all the other support services, often we just need time.” Where homelessness is prolonged ties to family friends and support networks are severed and there is a huge disconnect with the wider community. “And these people often have accompanying mental health and other issues that get pushed aside by the desperation for housing. I see people’s mental health deteriorate right before my eyes.” Donating to the Forster Neighbourhood Centre is easy, and money is spent right in our backyard. You can donate at www.fnc.org.au today. Follow the prompts and you will be given the option of which projects you would like to donate to. You’ll see that ‘Homelessness and Housing’ is number one on the priority list. You can make a one off donation or set up a regular monthly debit and it takes less than five minutes. You might not ever meet the people you help, but your donation could ensure that these people, at the very least, come to be missed by someone.