Sydney’s homeless double in cost-of-living crisis

Sydney’s population of rough sleepers has almost doubled during the cost-of-living crisis over the past three years, from 1,141 in 2021 to 2,037 now.

At least 140 people in NSW die while homeless each year, and have a life expectancy 30 years lower than the general population, with a median age of just 50 years.

On Friday 21 June Bishop Terry Brady and the Sydney Street Choir will lead an interfaith service in Martin Place Auditorium to remember and honour the lives of those who have died while homeless in the past year.

“It is a tragic fact that too many people die while homeless, and there is no one to pay their respects,” said PAYCE Foundation and End Street Sleeping Collaboration Director Dominic Sullivan.

“This service fills that void and acknowledges that every life is precious.”

In addition to the general community, the memorial service also welcomes the friends, families, and caregivers of those who have sadly died, including the many outreach and health workers, volunteers, and other community workers who work with those experiencing homelessness.

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Rough sleepers are only the most visible people experiencing homelessness. A far greater number suffer out of public sight: sleeping in cars, staying temporarily with others, or crammed into severely crowded dwellings.

Homeless services have reached capacity and the length of time it is taking to secure a housing outcome is increasing. St Vincent de Paul housing and homelessness services say that the length of time has almost tripled in the past five years and is now more than six months.

The reason is the difficulty in finding a place to live. New South Wales has a very small number of available social and public housing dwellings, and their availability is shrinking, from 5.1 per cent of available dwellings twenty years ago to just 4.5 per cent today.

The result is the surge of street sleepers that we have seen in the past three years, plus a less visible increase in other forms of homelessness.

In the immediate term, the State Government can follow the example of South Australia by introducing Code Red Code Blue protocols.

That would allow government-owned resources to be used to shelter homeless people during times of extreme heat or extreme cold and at least ameliorate the worst of the conditions that rough sleepers are exposed to.

Code Red protocols would also benefit people on very low incomes who do have a roof over their head but are unable to afford to run their air conditioning due to high energy costs.

In the medium term, more funding needs to be provided for specialist homelessness services and for public and social housing.

cost-of-living crisis - The Catholic weekly

The St Vincent de Paul Society says the NSW Government needs to set aside a further $50 million a year on specialist homelessness services just to cope with the increase in demand.

In the longer term, the increase in homelessness is tied up with the broader housing crisis to which there is no simple solution but an increase in public and social housing needs to be one element.

NSW Minister for Homelessness, Rose Jackson MLC, will attend the Memorial Service and speak about the Government’s current plans.

Fr Peter Smith, Justice and Peace Promoter for the Archdiocese, said addressing homelessness was not just a concern for governments and support agencies.

“It is up to all of us in society to see these people and to recognise their humanity to draw them into society. Jesus spent much of his public ministry seeking out the marginalised. We must do likewise,” Fr Peter said.

The Homeless Persons Memorial Service runs from 6-7pm on Friday 21 June, in the Martin Place Amphitheatre.

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