CASE STUDY: Coats for the Homeless Distribution in Northern NSW
Pictured left to right: Volunteer Pat, Leanne and Bryan from Mary’s Place St Vincent de Paul Society and Order of Malta member Andrew.
Northern NSW has in recent years experienced a massive influx of people. The holiday hotspots of Ballina, Lennox Head, Byron Bay and Brunswick Heads have not only transformed into year-round holiday destinations, but desired places to live. As a result real estate prices and rents have soared to levels that far exceed affordability for even high-income earners.
Local renters have been forced out to the inland towns where poverty is already high. They also lose their social networks and ties and become strangers in new places where support services are missing. Unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence, family dysfunction, alcoholism, drug abuse and mental health issues are all on the rise. People sleeping in vans now includes not only backpackers, but locals that are no longer able to afford the increased rents.
The Order of Malta has been active in the area and spoken to many people afflicted by the new situation. Our members and volunteers have distributed winter coats, warm socks and toiletries to the homeless on the streets. They have also formed contacts with the local Vinnies Conferences and workers at Byron Bay Community Centre, where they have spent time there talking to the homeless and distributing coats, beanies, toiletries and socks.
Volunteers and members note how being involved in the project has enriched their lives and have shared anecdotes from their distribution:
A homeless man who accepted a warm winter coat from Order of Malta indicated how important it was that it was a Velcro fastening rather than a zip, but also that it was a long dark jacket that doesn’t stand out commenting that “I have to watch out because it is very dangerous for me and who I am, and I stay away from others”.
A lady living in her car for many years explained, “I can no longer even afford to pay for petrol to leave Brunswick heads.” She has formed a community with other homeless people who live in the bushes at Brunswick heads and they lay nets for crabs in the morning . I spent several hours with them enjoying their company after I had handed out coats and they invited me to a lunch of crab.
One local sold her house to pay medical bills and care for her mother, who then passed away. She could not secure new accommodation locally and bought herself a van to live in and a year has passed like that.
“Despite once having a good bank balance, I could not find anything to rent as I don’t have a job or a husband who works and property managers continually decline me. They don’t even consider my applications anymore.”
When asked why she does not move to another town she said, “I don’t know anybody anywhere else as I have lived here all my life. This is where all my friends are who help me. All my support is here”.
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