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Homelessness News

Shelter Needed – It’s Up To Us.

On Monday 12th July, The Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast is launching its It’s Up To Us! campaign to tackle the crisis of homelessness in Bega Valley.  Its aim is to kick start a building program for the provision of emergency accommodation for those without a bed for the night. Its goal is to raise $100,000 towards an urgently required transitional housing unit by the end of the year.

Homelessness locally has reached crisis point.  Referrals to NGOs for emergency housing has risen 230% in two years.  Volunteers from the SJA, 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.  There are dozens sleeping rough in the shire each night but resources are limited. 

The SJA 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.

 Mick Brosnan, co-chairman of the SJA, says it’s never enough and far from ideal. ‘Caravans are freezing at this time of the year but it’s shelter at least.’  The outlook in the shire, he says, is bleak. ‘The fires were one thing. The rise in Airbnbs is another. 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.’  

His assessment is supported by Rose Alexander, who has been letting properties between Eden and Tura Beach for more than seventeen years. She has never seen it so bad, she says. She currently has only two properties on her books, neither of which is likely to be let to those in dire need. ‘Landlords have a wide range of applicants to choose from,’ she says. 

The situation is so bad that the SJA now believes that only the community has the will to tackle it. ‘The answer’, Mick Brosnan argues, ‘can’t be to stand by and watch while things go from bad to worse and those with literally nowhere to go become increasingly desperate.  The answer can’t be to say it’s their own silly fault, that they made bad choices. 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.’

Local, state and federal governments have failed to address the problem. Mick Brosnan points to a significant failure at all levels among those we voted into power. ‘They pay lip service to the problem but they seem unable to appreciate the day-to-day horror of being homeless.’ He has been lobbying local council on the growing crisis for seven years.  ‘I’ve addressed council at least five times. Everyone agrees there’s a problem but nothing happens. It’s all reports and talking. I’ve been told that council is not in the business of housing but that seems to be a local policy.’

The problem, he says, is not a failure of empathy. ‘Council is happy to support service providers.  They have, for example, designated land for social and affordable housing, but my concern is for those with nowhere to go tonight.’

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.  Brosnan is waiting with interest to hear the results of a recent consultation process.  In the meantime, he insists, living in cars and eating left over food from supermarkets is not a solution. 

‘Ask the lady who was camped outside Cranky’s in Merimbula, or the man sleeping in his car in Woolworths car park, or the couple hanging out for their Centrelink cheque with nowhere to go and nothing to eat, or the people from inland NSW who think that the coast will have jobs to offer and rooms to rent but find to their cost there is neither. Ask the Mum fleeing her violent husband. When no one else is increasing housing stock for those falling through the net, who’s going to put their hand up? It has to be us.   We can’t solve all their problems but we can give them a bed for the night.’ 

It’s now a matter for the community, he believes.  He is urging locals to get behind the SJA’s campaign by supporting fund-raising events, donating if and when they can, or by pitching in with time to help with transporting caravans or using building skills. 

Three events have already dedicated their profits to the SJA over the next few months. They are the Sleep On It Challenge in Homelessness Awareness Week at Bega Showground on Friday Saturday 6th August; Motorfest at Pambula Sports Complex on Saturday 25th September and the Figmentz Music Festival at Oaklands, Pambula on 21st November 

It is an ambitious campaign but Mick Brosnan hopes the community will have sufficient trust in the SJA’s determination to make a difference. ‘People might wonder why they should back us. We can only point to our track record.’  This includes co-administering the Bega Valley Disaster Relief Fund with Council which has just had its fourth distribution to fire affected individuals and communities.  Separately from Council, SJA has renovated and provided 70 caravans for emergency accommodation from $100,000 contributed directly to the SJA for fire relief.   It also includes many years of watching and patching. SJA has become a safe pair of hands for the administration of community donations across assorted social issues.

‘What it boils down to is this,’ Brosnan says. ‘If the community doesn’t take on homelessness now, no one will. It’s up to us. If we raise $100,000 by the end of the year we’ll get a new unit then we’ll take it from there.’

Contacts: 

Mick Brosnan 0410697229; annmickbrosnan@gmail.com

Barbara Toner 0419604464; barbaratoner@bigpond.com

Mick Brosnan is available for interview from Monday 12th July