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Heading Home - Ending Homelessness Here!

It’s a lovely word, home. When it’s cold outside, you can put another log on the fire. Stressful day at work? Hug your partner or kids.


But for many, ‘home’ is anything but safe, warm and dry - cold, hunger and insecurity are nightly companions.


Just ask Bill Temple. A few months short of his 65th birthday, he lost his job when the business he’d been working for closed up and moved. Unemployed, he was soon living in the grandstand at Windsor Sports Ground.


“The people around the oval were really nice, always giving me food, always giving me clothing.”


Then a visiting support worker contacted Bill and helped arrange accommodation for him. “The day I did get the keys was great, because I was out of the rain and the wind blowin’, not having to worry about someone stealing my stuff.”


Bill Temple picks up the keys to his new home after months of homelessness
Bill Temple picks up his keys. Photo: Wentworth Community Housing

Surveys and briefings

A recent survey found hundreds of people like Bill sleeping rough in Penrith, Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains. The survey formed part of the award-winning project ‘Heading Home - Ending Homeless Here!’, which aims not just to service homelessness, but to stop it in its tracks. Over three days in November, a team of 75 volunteers set out in the hours before dawn to locate rough sleepers, talk to them about their homelessness and register them for further help.



volunteers look for homeless people during registration week

Volunteers looking for homeless people. Photo: Wentworth Community Housing

“We found 140 people, but this is an underestimate of the problem,” says Jenny Ranft, Community Services Manager with Wentworth Community Housing.


Jenny and project officer Jo Robinson took the results to local community briefings and the media. “The briefings are a really good way of mobilising community support and we got good media coverage thanks to ambassadors like ex-Panther Mark Geyer and bipartisan support from all levels of government.”

sleep site 2

Sleep site. Photo: Wentworth Community Housing

Partnerships

The Heading Home project took out the 2017 Zest Award for Exceptional Community Partnership in February for its novel approach to partnerships.


“We were thrilled about that,” says Jenny. “They were looking for solutions to problems being solved by partnerships that go beyond the usual suspects.”


Wentworth’s project partners include the Mercy Foundation, which provided $50,000 for the project, Platform Youth ServicesYouth Services and Mission Australia, but Jenny and Jo also contacted real estate agents and mortgage brokers.


“Real estate agents may seem an unusual partner, but they can play a crucial role by putting tenants in touch with us when the tenancy first appear at risk,” said Jenny.


“Jo pounded the pavement to contact agencies in the region and present them with a business case showing that evictions will cost you this much, then you have vacancy rates etc. It’s better to take preventative action. Once people got it, they became the most willing advocates.”


Mythbusting

The Heading Home project has already placed 28 of the rough sleepers identified in the survey in longer-term housing, but it’s not just these that the project had in its sights.


“We want to bust the myths about homelessness, what kinds of people are homeless and why they are homeless”, Jenny says. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), homelessness is not just “rooflessness”. The ABS Census provides a snapshot of homelessness, with the most recent available statistics (2011) reporting more than 105,000 Australians homeless on Census night (28,200 in NSW), with 60% under 35 and 44% female.


Only 6% (6800) were rough sleepers, and many of these were women and children. The largest homeless groups were found in temporary accommodation, boarding houses, emergency shelters or couch surfing with friends or relatives.


The ABS Census also found fewer than 10% of homeless people suffer mental or substance abuse issues. Jenny agrees. “While we don’t have exact numbers for our region, it’s usually financial reasons due to loss of job, health or family separation.”


New approaches

“Meeting the demand for housing to end homelessness calls for new approaches,” says Jenny.


“We expect we’re going to be assisting 900 people in this calendar year who are either homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness. So we did some bluesky thinking and prioritised three of the best ideas.


“One was for a tiny homes pilot project. At our community briefings, these were far and away the most popular solution. You can accommodate more people on a piece of land without moving to medium-density living.

“We want to try this in our region. It’s not a silver bullet, but we think it can work for some people who can’t live in crowded boarding houses. We are closely watching the State’s first tiny home development for homeless people, now nearing completion in Gosford.”


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Tiny Home Project, Gosford. Photo: Tiny Homes Foundation


The second solution is for a secondary dwellings expo. “The expo would bring the experts together - like bushfire authorities, town planners, mortgage brokers and builders - to help people navigate the regulations and see if this is something they’d like to invest in, especially in the Blue Mountains where council plans already allow for secondary dwellings.”

The third idea calls for a housing locator. “We need someone who knows how to speak ‘real estate’, to work with agencies and tap into the secondary housing market - vacant weekenders, underperforming investment properties and so on.”


Ending homelessness

Wentworth Community Housing is now looking for funds to implement these ideas. In the meantime, Jenny says everyone can help end homelessness.


“Look at the way you think about homeless people. Is it OK that people are homeless? We can’t ignore the problem and just accept it as a part of modern society.


“So people can change their mindset, learn how to recognise the signs of homelessness - it could be a child who stops bringing their lunch, or a family not paying their childcare fees - and then connect them to the available services using our Right Door helpline on 1800 760 071.”


And Bill Temple? He now lives independently, looking after himself and playing golf. “No one should be sleeping on the street. Not able to have a shower, not able to keep warm and dry. It’s terrible”.

Brendan Atkins

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