The homeless situation in the Bega Valley is so dire say the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast (SJASC) that they are launching a campaign to raise money for transitional housing with the aim of raising $100,000 by the end of the year.
Co-chairman of the SJASC Mick Brosnan said the group could no longer stand by and watch as nothing appeared to change at various levels of government.
"They pay lip service to the problem but they seem unable to appreciate the day-to-day horror of being homeless," Mr Brosnan said.
Living in cars and eating left over food from supermarkets is not a solution.Mick Brosnan Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast co-chairman
He has been lobbying council on the growing crisis for seven years and has addressed councillors at least five times but he said that while everyone agrees there's a problem, nothing happens.
The SJASC has been purchasing and refitting older caravans - they currently have 13 solely for those in need of immediate shelter. This is additional to assistance they have been providing to bushfire affected residents with the renovation of 70 caravans.
The emergency housing unit in St James' House can only accommodate one couple for no more than three nights at a time.
The pressure is mounting says Mr Brosnan who last Friday went to collect another two caravans.
"But it's never enough and far from ideal. Caravans are freezing at this time of the year but it's shelter at least," he said.
Every week the SJASC is answering calls to help house the homeless.
The problem is the caravans and St James' House are short-term, and for the homeless, left literally out in the cold, there is no dignity and no stability, both of which affect mental health.
The idea of transitional housing is to provide some breathing space and stability with up to three months of guaranteed housing, allowing a person or family to stay in contact with key services and develop a plan for their future.
The outlook in the shire though, he says, is bleak.
"There is no council provision for urgently needed transitional housing. The shire has only one over-subscribed women's refuge and no men's refuge.
"Living in cars and eating left over food from supermarkets is not a solution."
The crisis has been compounded by the fires with families and individuals forced into the rental market.
Mr Brosnan also points to the rise in Airbnbs because it takes rental accommodation out of the market.
"There is next to no permanent rental accommodation available, even for those who can afford to pay top dollar. Those with just a few dollars stand no chance," Mr Brosnan said.
While he recognises that one transitional unit will not solve the problem, he believes that they have to start somewhere.
"Something's got to change. This is our problem and I am confident our community will rise to the challenge."
To that end the campaign entitled 'It's up to us' will receive the profits from three key events over the next few months:
- Sleep On It Challenge in Homelessness Awareness Week at Bega Showground on Friday/Saturday August 6/7;
- Motorfest at Pambula Sports Complex on Saturday, September 25;
- The Figmentz Music Festival at Oaklands, Pambula Sunday, November 21.
Donating to the campaign and other help
Donations to help 'It's Up To Us' campaign can be made at the Bendigo Bank BSB 633-000; Account No. 151 382 090.
The SJASC are also looking for help to move and maintain the caravans they have and would welcome assistance from anyone with a ute who is able to tow and move caravans and/or help with refits and maintenance.
The pressure is mounting
Homelessness locally has reached crisis point. Inquiries to Mission Australia for emergency housing have risen 230 per cent in two years.
Volunteers from the SJASC, working in conjunction with all of the shire's housing/homeless support services, run a hotline which receives on average a call every day related to crisis accommodation.
"I had four calls just to me last week and I am not the only one involved," Mr Brosnan said.
The SJASC has thirteen caravans for those in need of immediate shelter. Their emergency unit in St James' House can only accommodate one couple for no more than three nights at a time.
Since it re-opened some six weeks ago, the pressure has increased.
"St James' is being used every week more than before. We don't advertise it and it's only one to three nights maximum," Mr Brosnan said.
We have evolved to provide the homeless with immediate crisis support because no one else is responding. If the community doesn't take on homelessness now, no one will. It's up to usMick Brosnan Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast co-chairman.
"There are dozens sleeping rough in the shire each night but resources are limited.There is no council provision for urgently needed transitional housing. The shire has only one over-subscribed women's refuge and no men's refuge."
Just last week he was aware of a mum and kids, a younger couple and a single male who were all in need of emergency housing.
"We have people from this area who are homeless and people who come here, looking for work, maybe believing it's greener on the other side."
While he acknowledges some may have made a bad choice at some stage, Mr Brosnan said that we're all just one bad choice away from it ourselves.
"The answer, like it or not, lies with us, fellow human beings who live in the Bega Valley."
He said that the SJASC don't want to be housing providers.
"But we have evolved to provide the homeless with immediate crisis support because no one else is responding. If the community doesn't take on homelessness now, no one will. It's up to us," Mr Brosnan said.
He hopes to raise $100,000 by the end of the year and is confident of getting further assistance to make the transitional unit happen.
The SJASC operated a transitional unit at the Merimbula Lake Caravan Park but the unit had to be sold with the change of ownership. The $55,000 received for that unit is a good starting point for the campaign.
"There is dignity in units, not in caravans," he said.