People experiencing homelessness in the Illawarra are steadily increasing according to Mandy Booker, Chief Executive Officer of not-for-profit charity Wollongong Emergency Family Housing (WEHF).
Booker, a 15-year industry veteran, says her organisation is experiencing an unprecedented demand for its services.
The impact of Covid-19 is one of the factors driving demand as well as a lack of affordable housing. We just don’t have enough houses for people that are looking for houses, people are being pushed out of the market now.
WEFH supports families and individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to either sustain their existing accommodation or attain and keep new tenancies through a combination of early intervention, case management, referral, advocacy, and information.
Located on Keira Street in Wollongong, the 80-room complex offers a mix of single and family rooms catering for couples or people with children.
“We have a drop-in homeless hub, forced accommodation, and transitional accommodation with wrap-around support provided for anyone coming into the service,” Booker explained.
It’s a centre for everybody. We take people from ages zero right through, our eldest now is 82.
A new app created last year through Covid allows WEHF to provide more targeted support, through their outreach program, searching trains once a month, and the streets every week.
“The app has been crucial for the community to identify where people are sleeping rough. For example, we were recently notified of a family of two people and two children sleeping in a tent on council land.”
Booker says the face of the homeless is also changing with more employed people accessing their services, offering a stark reminder that it could happen to anyone.
“We are seeing a lot more people classified as the working poor, people needing food assistance, needing support accessing other agencies for payment of electricity and bills they can’t make just because their rental accommodation has gone up so high.”
SCE’s Tara Templeton, Mikayla Banach, and Wenny Smith recently toured the SCE sponsored WEHF complex to gain a better understanding of the issues faced by the homeless and how their company’s support is making a difference.
“I guess the thing that I took from it is how hard it is for people to come back from a life of adversity,” explains Templeton an Assistant Accountant at the industrial recycling company.
“There is a high number of homeless people who suffer discrimination when they apply for a job because of their previous hardship. We need to be able to assist homeless people with accommodation and help them gain greater confidence and life skills during their stay.”
Meanwhile, Booker is very proud people can come through the homeless system all in one space, including an early intervention program supporting people for an additional six months while they are in their new property to make sure they don’t re-enter homelessness
“One of the reasons we have the model we have is to stop people having to be re-traumatised by the system.
“You can enter our service from being a rough sleeper and come straight through to our crisis accommodation, go through to transitional accommodation, and, hopefully, out to long-term housing where you will be put into our early intervention tenancy at-risk program.”
Providing a comprehensive service does not come without its challenges, especially when it comes to funding, the non-profit organisation relying heavily on corporate and community support.
“We have an amazingly supportive community. From corporate support from companies such as SCE or mums and dads that drop in food parcels every week to make our food parcels.
“We also have events like our trivia night which raised $4,000 this year. This allows us to support people with Opal cards and buy medications they need to stay stable.”
Booker knows accountability and transparency are important when it comes to corporate and government support.
“We welcome anyone to walk in at any time because we love what we do, and we are really proud of what is being delivered here. When you donate or support us, you’re supporting your own community.
“We have some really successful outcomes that wouldn’t have been achieved without community support.”