A week on from the floods that devastated much of the east coast of NSW and most of us have been able to get on the road to recovery.
But a warm home to come back to after the heavy rain and flooding events is a luxury not afforded to everyone.
Kate James (name changed for privacy) is a single mother of six children between the ages of seven and 18 who has been homeless since mid-February of 2021 after having to move out from the property she was renting with her kids.
Ms James has been looking for a rental property in Merimbula or Pambula on NSW's South Coast since October of last year and said an additional challenge for her family is that three of her six children have mental and physical disabilities.
"I'm not being picky, I've got to stay in the Pamula and Merimbula area as my son goes to the special unit school in Pambula. I can't go to Eden or Bega as it's too far."
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Ms James is a full-time carer for her three children with additional needs and a single mother to her other children. Before becoming homeless she was also working through a course to become a medical receptionist, but had to cease her studies after she could no longer access internet or a stable place to study.
From mid-February until March 28 Ms James and her six children were living in a local caravan park in a camper trailer and a caravan she borrowed from a friend.
"I'm just really battling at the moment."
Despite the fact Ms James was paying $400 per week to rent the space for the camper trailer and caravan, she has been unable to successfully obtain a rental property in the area for the past six months since she was advised she would have to leave her rental.
"I can't get a rental even though I have the money there. I've applied for so many houses - every house that has come up with more than three bedrooms.
"I'm even putting signs up around cafes with my story saying that I urgently need a rental."
Impact of flooding on people dealing with homelessness
To make matters worse, Ms James said she was frightened for the safety of her family during the flooding events of last week.
"The SES had to come to come out and put a whopping big tarp up on that night we received a lot of rain. Then they put down sandbags to secure it all.
"The water came straight underneath and the annex part of the campervan was completely flooded. Everything was damp. I had to throw out bedding and the kids' clothing.
"Luckily I have really good friends who came in and gave me doonas, new towels and a bunch of pillows."
Ms James has been in contact with support services such as Mission Australia, which are assisting with her case to try to find crisis accommodation.
Although she was relieved to receive support, she found it extremely disheartening when she was reportedly told by a support worker that it would be really difficult for her to find a rental with her six kids and dog, which is a therapy animal for her child with autism.
"It just broke my heart, I can't just dump them, they are my children.
"I've just been so broken down at the moment, it's just wrong, coming into winter with three children with a disability is just so scary, they will catch everything," said Ms James.
Prejudice towards single women with children in rental market shortage
Jane Hughes, coordinator at the Bega Women's Resource Centre (WRC) is also working on Ms James' case and said single women looking for housing are unfortunately at a disadvantage due to stigma.
"There are a lot of ideas in our society about what a single women with children looks like or what they can manage and afford, especially when there is a huge demand and real estate agents and landlords are able to be more picky with their tenants.
"There is also prejudice about what looks good on paper and often a two-person household with a steady income is viewed is being a better option for a landlord than a single woman with children," Ms Hughes said.
"There is an also a societal trend that women should go into caring roles and don't need to be financially rewarded for that. It's a general underlying issue that the work that women do is the work they should do, without being given the proper financial compensation."
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There has been an increased strain on local support services such as the WRC, which are helping a growing number of women through food banks, providing donated goods, showering and kitchen facilities as well as workshops and support services for those experiencing homelessness or domestic violence.
A lack of government funding into the sector in regards to infrastructure and resources means social support services are not always able to provide what these people need.
"There's a level of distress when you're hearing people's stories again and again. You can help by providing showers or food, but at the end of the day someone is going to be sleeping in their car with their four children."
Homelessness crisis support services pushed to the brink by housing crisis
Donna Davis, the program manager for Bega and Cooma Homelessness Support Services with Mission Australia said Ms James' situation is an extremely difficult one and that the current homelessness crisis goes far beyond the means of organisations such as theirs.
"The last thing you want to see is women and children out on the streets. Everyone deserves to have a roof over their head, everyone has been through so much in this area, there is only so much can you take," Ms Davis said.
"I've never seen anything like it. There are a lot of people looking for rental properties, especially low income or single people.
"The need for housing has increased beyond what we are capable of providing.
Ms Davis explained that for larger families it was even more difficult to find crisis accommodation in places like motels or caravan parks due to the influx of holiday makers from January to March and then into the Easter holidays.
That is the case for Ms James and her six children who were asked to leave the caravan park they were staying at on March 28 in order to make space for tourists coming to spend their holiday break in the area.
The family has found a short-term solution on a property in the local area where they were able to move their caravan and camper trailer. However they will still need to pay to have shower and toilet facilities on the property. It will cost Ms James $250 a week for leasing fees.
Mission Australia was able to help them with over $1000 in transportation fees to get the cubicles from a company in Canberra.
"The truth is that there are just so many issues out there," said Ms Davis, "and there is no short term fix for them all. We can't even get builders and contractors into Bega because of the lack of rentals."
In her opinion, people in this area have been particularly traumatised due to the bushfires, COVID and now flooding. The support services themselves are stretched beyond their means and are left without knowing how to truly best support the people who access their services.
Ms Davis explained that what Mission Australia can do is help point people in the right direction and try to get them on to lists for social housing. They then advocate based on their situation through support letters and take on people's situations on a case by case basis throughout the process with Housing NSW. But the bigger issue remains the lack of available housing.
"In terms of our stance, the government needs to invest more into social and affordable housing and increase income support for low income earners."
"This isn't just an issue for people who may have cycled in and out of homelessness in the past, it's an issue for all renters in the community."
Rural and regional Australians are being priced out by a burgeoning housing market
According to Giddy Brandauer from Raine & Horne Merimbula, the issue of rental shortages is widespread throughout all of regional and rural NSW.
She said this rise in the demand for rental accommodation had only been exasperated by COVID.
"It's something that's been happening Australia wide in rural and coastal regions and it is the flow of effect of COVID, people have been too cooped up in their city apartments and they're looking for that lifestyle change.
In Ms Brandauer's opinion, first home buyers were also being out-priced by the current state of the market, which has been on the rise over the past year.
According to realestate.com.au, regional markets have recorded price growth of 9.6 per cent, exactly double that in capital cities of 4.8 per cent. However there was a small drop in regional property prices in February 2021 compared to city dwelling prices so the future of the regional market remains unclear.
"It's harder for people to buy homes as they are getting priced out of the market. The actual access to loans and mortgages is also more difficult and means that people who would have been in the first homes market are now being pushed further into the rental market," says Ms Brandauer.
Daniel Palmer from National Australia Bank (NAB) on the other hand said that their own trends reports within the bank point towards, "a significant rise in first homebuyers over the past year, particularly in outer suburbs and regional areas."
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Andy Kerr, executive of home ownership at NAB said "We have seen many of our customers moving further out from inner-city areas and expect this trend to continue as hybrid working models become the norm in several industries."
While it appears that clientele from out of the region are the main drivers of housing shortages in the area, locals like Ms James and her family are definitely being left in their wake and continue to struggle to secure permanent housing.
For single parents like Ms James, the main goal remains finding a place to call home.
"It's pretty hectic at the moment, one of my friends found us a burner drum to sit around at night but the kids are still freezing.
"My child with autism is not coping at all.
"The kids need a stable home. I'm just hoping to get a permanent home so I can just get on with life."
If you would like to donate blankets, towels or non-perishable food to the family, please take donations to the Women's Resource Centre on either Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 until 4pm. Please specify that you would like your donation to go to the family featured in the Bega District News article.