Newcastle homelessness rally, attended by Port Stephens service, a call to action

Homelessness Rally 29 March 2021

Port Stephens Examiner

Charlie Elias

Members of the Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services attended the call to action on the Hunter homelessness crisis held in Newcastle’s Civic Park on March 29.

Ann Fletcher, the early intervention and homelessness program team leader at the Raymond Terrace-based organisation, said that the purpose of the rally was to raise awareness with government of the homeless crisis in the community.

“Our message centred around the very worrying situation that has developed in the region, including Port Stephens, where demand very much outstrips supply of affordable and appropriate rentals,” she said.

It was revealed last month that the number of homeless people in Port Stephens had almost tripled in the past 12 months, while resources from the Neighbourhood service were being stretched to their limits as staff struggled to provide emergency accommodation.

An annual one-night street count of people sleeping rough in the Port recorded 11 cases compared to just four last year.

Michelle Faithfull, Hunter Homeless Connect Day Event & Community directory coordinator, said that there was an unprecedented level of homelessness and housing stress being experienced locally.

“Service providers are inundated with demand, and people who have not before experienced life at the margins are now also at risk. The end of JobKeeper will only exacerbate this situation.”

In addition to raising awareness of the homeless crisis, the collaborative call to action demanded an increase in resources to ensure the area’s most vulnerable don’t go without shelter and support.

Ms Fletcher said that some of the issues raised by speakers on the day included the eviction of residents from Aboriginal housing complex in Carrington, plans to create a tent city and the fact that women were more likely to become homeless because they were more disadvantaged.

“There are no houses available, resulting in people having to sleep rough, couch surf, stay in temporary accommodation or stay with their perpetrators,” said one of the speakers.

“Once they have exhausted their 28 days of temporary accommodation as allocated by the state government, they cannot access any further funded accommodation.”

The Hunter Tenants Advocacy and Advice group called for changes to policies around ‘no grounds eviction’ and ‘no pets allowed’.

“The past year alone we have had horrific fires, a pandemic and now floods. We are yet to see the full impact it has had on the Hunter community,” a spokesperson for Matthew Talbot House said.

“A greater injection of money is needed to the sector and the government needs to invest in more social housing,” the spokesperson said.