New tactics in bid to help homeless

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Helping hand: Volunteers Sharon Swaine, Anne Foss, and Amanda Race-Lyons, sort charity items at Mornington Community Information and Support Centre. Picture: Yanni

PEOPLE are doing it tough and sleeping rough on the Mornington Peninsula in ever greater numbers.

Mornington Community Information and Support Centre manager Stuart Davis-Meehan said it was “concerning” that his staff members were seeing “more and more people experiencing homelessness and, in particular, sleeping rough”.

“On average, in the first half of this year, we have seen 14 people experiencing homelessness each month,” he said. “Last year for the same period we saw nine people.”

Their plight underscores the importance of Homelessness Week across Australia (4-10 August) with its theme: “Housing Ends Homelessness”.

The event also comes as Council of Capital Cities Lord Mayors plans a national summit on homelessness to bring together decision makers from all levels of government with the aim of creating a national homelessness and housing strategy.

The number of people experiencing homelessness on any given night across Australia rose to 116,427 in 2016. Those asking for help each year from specialist homelessness services rose 18 per cent to 288,795 last year and the number of rough sleepers seeking help each year from homeless services rose 31 per cent to 23,911 in 2018.

“We recently started meeting with our volunteers on a regular basis to discuss issues relating to the centre and they continue to raise their frustration at our limited ability to assist rough sleepers,” Mr Davis-Meehan said.

With no emergency accommodation on the peninsula centre staff cannot refer them anywhere.

“We did recently receive a number of backpack beds and a couple of three-person tents, which are often our only option in trying to provide accommodation for these people,” he said.

“However, recognition of the issue of homelessness is growing on the peninsula and we are actively seeking solutions.”

Mr Davis-Meehan chairs the Mornington Peninsula Housing Network which focuses on homelessness. He also sits on Mornington Peninsula Shire’s Triple A Housing Committee.

The shire has earmarked money for a disabled toilet and hot shower at the centre for use by homeless people.

The centre is also exploring the viability of the “Stable One” model of providing shelter for those experiencing homelessness which is already established in the Yarra Ranges.

“Stable One aims to offer a safe and supportive environment for those experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness in the winter months,” Mr Davis-Meehan said.

“It partners with local churches and congregations, equipping and empowering them to work together, utilising their buildings as venues and engaging their members as volunteers.”

The mayor Cr David Gill said the council had a “longstanding concern [about] homelessness and [was] advocating for affordable, appropriate and available housing for all”.

“Homelessness comes in many forms, including couch surfing, overcrowded dwellings, living in insecure housing and, sometimes, for a minority, rough sleeping,” he said.

“This issue is recognised in Council’s Draft Triple A Housing Plan, which calls for a whole-of-community approach to ensuring people without homes are treated with respect and have access to shelter, food and basic utilities in a context that prioritises safety, pathways into appropriate accommodation and community inclusion.

“This project will be a win for everyone using the Mornington Community Information and Support Centre: from residents with or without homes to tourists or people working or volunteering at the centre. It is community inclusion at its best.”

Anyone looking for assistance with food, groceries, transport, money management, Wi-Fi, computers, legal advice and other matters can pick up a free copy of the shire’s Food and Other Help Guide from the shire’s customer service centres.

First published in the Mornington News – 6 August 2019

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