An increasing number of homeless people seeking help in Newtown has prompted the establishment of a community forum to address the growing problem. Overcoming homelessness in Newtown is the focus of a forum being held at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre on May 14. The Centre’s executive officer, Lisa Burns, said the forum will allow for the development of critical new strategies to tackle the issue.
Staff at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre have reported more than 1200 accommodation requests and over 450 tenancy issue queries in the past year alone, and expect the number to grow even further. “We’re finding that a lot more people are turning up to our front counter who are homeless and it’s one of our biggest unmet needs,” Ms Burns said.
According to Ms Burns, the face of homelessness in the area has changed. “Traditionally we would be seeing older men, but that’s changing and now we see single women and families too. It really is a mix of people,” she said. “We’ve got a good community, a vibrant community, but as the area has evolved there is a lot more of a divide than there used to be.”
Speakers at the forum are representatives from some of the Centre’s key partner service providers in the inner city area, including the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service and the Inner City Homelessness Outreach and Support Service, established by the Department of Housing’s Homelessness Unit for people across the City of Sydney area. The Centre’s Boarding House Project will also be represented, and one of the Centre’s clients will share their story.
Figures from the 2001 Census showing that 100,000 people a night are homeless in Australia with 14,000 sleeping rough are already over six years old. “The earliest evidence from the new  Census data is that it’s getting worse”, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said earlier in the year.
“It’s a real problem meeting the need that is out there, and I can see it is getting worse,” Ms Burns said. “Homelessness services can only meet 14% of the accommodation needs and I know some people are sleeping rough.”
Finding a home is a basic need, Ms Burns said, and the first that must be met for anything else to follow. “Without housing, people can’t find work, health issues arise and they are prone to becoming victims of crime. There are significant mental health issues as well. Effectively it means homeless people can’t participate in society,” she said.
The Neighbourhood Centre has developed some good partnerships, according to Ms Burns, but what was really needed was a dedicated housing worker, counselling services and increased access to affordable long term housing for the area. “It often feels like we have to go from crisis to crisis before we can support people, with nothing done about maintaining wellness,” she said.
The Centre will be launching a directory of services at the forum and hope to establish a working party to raise the profile of homelessness in the area in response to the Federal Government’s discussion paper on homelessness, being issued for consultation during May.
The Sydney Street Choir, whose members are homeless or disadvantaged men and women, sponsored by Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, will be singing in a closing performance.
Homelessness in Newtown Forum
Newtown Neighbourhood Centre
1 Bedford Street, Newtown
Wednesday, May 14 from 9am to 1.30pm
Ph: 9516 4755 for bookings
This article was first published in the South Sydney Herald, May 2008, Page 5.