Terry Stanton

“There is no homeless problem in Taree”, the lady told the guest speaker at the Rotary Club meeting.  “Unfortunately there is”, responded the Anglican priest, one of the members.  “They sleep in the porch of my Church, and sometimes on the verandah of my Rectory”. 

Someone then made the usual untruthful remark: “Anyway, they are all drug addicts and alcoholics”.

Since the bushfires and floods that is definitely untrue, and it never was.  If some may be on drugs or the bottle, or suffering other mental illness, it is, more often than not, due to being homeless, not the cause of it.  Men and women become homeless if they are made redundant in the interest of bigger profits for their boss, or more efficient robots or computer systems replace them, or their rents go up to unaffordable, or government funding for homeless agencies is cut.  When there is nowhere to keep clean clothes, and you’re washing in public toilets, it’s hard to keep a job if you have one, let alone find one.

North Taree Rotary Club gives sleeping bags to Samaritans, who have the unenviable task of trying to house the local homeless.  The Club had this thank you letter from the agency:

Both Samaritans and our homeless clients are so very grateful for Taree North Rotary Club’s annual sleeping bag project.

Before I commenced working with Samaritans, I had absolutely no idea of the issue of homelessness which exists in Taree. It’s a much bigger problem than I ever thought and I’ve come to the realisation that, if my life had taken a different path, it could have easily been me – it still could happen to someone I love. I really was very ignorant and, I’m ashamed to admit, that previously I would have passed these people in the street and not given them a second thought.

The main causes of homelessness are poverty, unaffordable rents and/or family violence. We see families sleeping in their cars because the breadwinner was retrenched and suddenly there’s not enough money to cover rent and bills. We see women with children fleeing domestic violence and left with nowhere to go and they end up sleeping in the car with their children. We see many people with varied mental health and/or drug issues. We even see elderly people who fall through the cracks with no family or friends to help them.

Homeless just aren’t the rough sleepers we see living on the street or sleeping in parks – homeless people may be “couch surfing” at a friend’s or relative’s house, sleeping in their car or tent or staying at a short-term crisis refuge.

Samaritans are the only Specialist Homelessness Service for Men, Women, children and families covering a very large area from Johns River down to Tea Gardens and out to Gloucester – all of our clients come to Samaritans in distress – they are either homeless, becoming homeless or at risk of homelessness or escaping domestic and family violence. We are currently overwhelmed with clients who cannot be housed. The current rental availability in our area is 0.5% and all temporary accommodation is full. Real Estate Agents have 70 people attending open houses for rental properties. This is largely due to Covid 19 with no travel outside of Australia and men, women, children and families relocating out of main cities. The affordable rentals are no longer available due to the pandemic.

Winter will be here shortly and we urgently require funding to buy swags, sleeping bags, pillows & blankets. Unfortunately due to COVID 19 we are only able to accept new items.

If your Rotary Club would be happy to assist, would you mind discussing our needs with your members at your next monthly meeting. I’m sure our Coordinator, Suzi Rowe, would be happy to attend one of your meetings.”

North Taree Rotary also gives sleeping bags for the homeless to such welfare groups as Catholic Care and Manning Uniting Church (MUC).  I am shocked that in as allegedly wealthy a country as Australia anyone needs to do this, as if we were a third world country.  But here the emphasis is on tax reductions, so Samaritans do not have the money to do the job properly.  As a result they have to go begging to Rotary if they are to have any chance of doing their job.  But the housing and homeless crisis has reached new dimensions of awfulness as house and rent prices rise.

The figures provided by Suzi Rowe of Samaritans Taree are shocking.  According to her, they supported 508 people in April, and 438 in June.  What does ‘supported’ mean?  Obviously they didn’t find them all a home, but that is the Government’s fault, not Suzi’s.  The annual funding she gets for accommodating people runs out in three months, so for nine months they can do little except counsel the homeless.

My friend Les Barnes was told by local homeless men on the riverbank there are about twenty of them in town. His enquiries showed local estate agents are short of houses to sell and to rent.  At the end of May rentals were only 8, and for sale 29.  Normally it’s about 67 for sale and 30 for rent. Prices have gone up 15%.  People are living rough near Taree in a forest which Les and I visited.  Suzi was there delivering sleeping bags and clothes.

Every government housing policy forces up prices and rents.  As Alan Kohler said on Q & A recently, the $2000 first time home buyers’ grant just gets added to the price of houses.  The previous $5000 grant did the same.  The real winners are the landlords who own several properties; if they have ten properties which go up $2000, they are $20,000 better off.   

Why a shelter for men?  What about the women?  Women’s problems feature in many news broadcasts, in questions on Q & A, and articles in papers almost every day.  I will be called misogynistic for saying that, but I don’t care what I’m called for telling the truth.  

The Taree and Forster women’s refuges may not be enough, but it is better than men having nowhere to sleep.  There is nothing for men in the Manning Valley.  My wife does Welfare at MUC; recently she gave a man a food parcel.  He’d been sleeping in his car for nearly a month, despite having a Samaritans case worker who could not find him any accommodation.  Sue Abdoo of Catholic Care saw a 78 year old man at the Community Kitchen she manages. He had health problems and had been sleeping in his car for weeks and was starving.  She fed him, spent two hours on the phone to Link2Home and other housing agencies without success, and then got him into hospital.  

On the MUC Welfare team I gave food to a man who was sleeping in his car under Martin Bridge for weeks.  Ruffians set on his car and in defending himself and the car (his ‘home’) his index finger was slammed in the door, broken and permanently bent.  Samaritans had no solution for him either.  I struggle to imagine how frustrated Suzi and her team must feel having inadequate resources to do the job they are paid to do.

These stories do not get onto TV.  I understand the homeless males/females are split roughly 50/50.  Perhaps I’m wrong to think that the homeless should be treated equally regardless of gender.  Am I a lone voice in that regard? 

On 7th July Les and I hosted a meeting at MUC to promote the idea of a Sleep Bus for men for the Manning Valley. Twenty-six people attended.  As a result a committee was formed and has already met to plan the raising of the $100,000 necessary. A GoFundMe account is being opened for Manning Homeless Action Group, and another with North Taree Rotary, to take donations.  Payments to the Rotary account should be tax deductible.  Please look up Sleep Bus on the internet.  One of these can give twenty men a safe bed for the night. It may be possible for women to use the bus too.  

Some local Churches came, with groups such as Rotary, Quota, Freemasons, and others who are or wish to be involved in charitable and humanitarian work.  Local businesses and people could contribute funds to acquire a Sleep Bus, and to pressure Federal and State Governments to fund refuges for both sexes properly.  It will take years for sufficient social housing to be provided, even if the Government kept its promises.  

 Les and I have booked another public meeting for 2.00 pm on Wednesday, 4th August, 2021 to discuss the needs of the homeless generally, and of men in particular, and to create an organisation to provide a Sleep Bus.  Should you be interested in this, please get in touch.  We hope you or representatives of your group or Club will attend.

Terry Stanton.

Tinonee.

02 6553 1360.

tez_stanton@hotmail.com 

(Homelessness is a major and contentious issue in our electorate. COVID has acerbated domestic violence and abuse towards women and children. We do not have enough facilities, financial means or local support to cope with the homeless of any sex, age or situation. Perhaps a new council will think about these matters and not just leave it to welfare support groups. ED)

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