The number of people homeless in the Bega Valley has risen between the past two Censuses, a social worker has said.
“It is quite high, and it is rising particularly for young people,” social worker for the Department of Human Services based in Bega Renee Gallagher said.
But it is not often the stereotype of people sleeping on the streets – although this does still exist.
“Couchsurfing is really, really big,” Ms Gallagher said.
“We’ve had clients who’ve been couchsurfing for six to 12 months.”
The main demographic she sees are young people aged from 14 upwards who are staying on the couch of someone in their network. But she has also recently seen a rise in the number of single people in their late 20s and early 30s, and thought while it was close there were more men than women sleeping rough.
“It can be a really simple change in their circumstances, such as the loss of employment,” Ms Gallagher said.
“But it’s turned everything upside down.”
While she said there are only a few services supporting people who are homeless in the Bega Valley – including Housing NSW, Mission Australian and South East Women And Children Services – the networks between them are very strong.
But access to services is one of the largest differences between the Valley and metropolitan areas.
“In bigger cities and bigger regional areas there is more access,” Ms Gallagher said.
For instance one issue is the lack of a youth refuge in the local area, as the closest one is in Moruya and she said moving a young person away from their support network is not helpful for their situation. Another issue is the lack of affordable housing in the Bega Valley for people on a single or low income.
The main reason someone becomes homeless is due to the breakdown of a relationship, either between family or a partner, with this particularly reported by young people. It could also be the result of financial stress or mental health concerns.
For young people, being homeless can also end in them placing themselves in unsafe situations.
“There is the potential for being taken advantage of,” Ms Gallagher said.
“This could be violence, abuse, coercion, doing things they don’t have the capacity to say no to.”
The Department of Human Services is often the first point of contact for many people facing homelessness so frontline staff need to quickly identify individuals and families at risk and offer them support.
Homelessness Week is an annual week coordinated by Homelessness Australia to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness. It runs from August 6-12.