The reality for the homeless in Bega Valley is one of cold comfort and has been called both desperate and urgent. There is little housing available and what there is has already been taken with waiting lists stretching out into years.
Homelessness is often hidden with those affected couch surfing or sleeping in cars but now the problem has become so dire in the Bega Valley that representatives of many local churches and organisations outside the church are meeting regularly under the banner of the Social Justice Advocates for the South Coast to discuss what can be done.
“On any one night there are about 100 people sleeping out in the Bega Valley and a significant number of those are young people.”
Ministers of local churches are often the last resort in a plea for help from those affected or from others looking to assist a homeless person.
The previous minister of the Pambula Catholic Parish, Father Constantine, had hoped to see a crisis shelter built at the back of St Joseph’s Church, Merimbula.
A team of volunteers was ready to provide both materials and labour but the project needed to be approved at a higher level within the church and this never happened.
Now the Reverend David Ruthven, Rector of the Sapphire Coast Anglican Parish has taken up the cause.
Mr Ruthven regularly gets calls for help. “Part of where I’m coming from is having the capacity to help. I don’t want to pass off the problem because it doesn’t go away,” he said.
A call he received from Pambula hospital recently was typical of the problems that society faces. The hospital was discharging a person with schizophrenia who had nowhere to go.
Before he left, Father Constantine said that there were problems right here in the community.
“I would ask everyone to open their eyes to the people where we live and in our community. Sometimes people need to be more aware of each other and more caring,” he said.
Mick Brosnan, a member of the Social Justice Advocates of the South Coast, said that in Eden a fulltime police youth worker was trying to establish a youth centre.
“We’re trying to look at the causes of homelessness and get to people before they become homeless,” he said. “On any one night there are about 100 people sleeping out in the Bega Valley and a significant number of those are young people,” Mr Brosnan said.
Ideally Mr Ruthven would like to see not only crisis accommodation but also short term accommodation that provides some stability with a chance to access services. However, for the time being he would be happy to get the Bishop’s and Bega Valley Shire Council’s blessing on the proposed crisis accommodation at the back of St Clement’s Church, Merimbula.