Shelter a home for the homeless
TWENTY dollars arrives at Coast Shelter each week pinned to a piece of paper marked with just three words, "for the homeless". There isn't a name attached.
It's just one of the many selfless donations which have kept Coast Shelter going for the past 25 years, providing accommodation to 16,866 homeless men, women and children for 797,302 days.
Executive officer Laurie Maher has worked with the shelter from the day it first opened its doors as a family refuge in the old convent near the railway station.
These days it incorporates 10 separate refuges and provides support to people in about 70 public housing properties.
"We have certainly grown tremendously," Laurie said.
"But over the last six months, the number of people sleeping on the street in Gosford has grown to more than I have ever seen before.
"There's a terrific shortage in rental housing for those on a low fixed income.
"There are 60,000 people in NSW on waiting lists for public housing.
"We get government funding to house 60-70 people, but we average about 180 every night."
And the shelter provides much more than a bed.
"Homeless people need more than a roof over their heads because of what they have been through - they need support," Laurie said, pointing to both the circumstances by which people had become homeless, and what they may have suffered since.
That includes domestic violence, addiction (drugs, alcohol or gambling) and family breakdown.
More women than ever are coming to the shelter to escape domestic violence, and while Laurie said that was partly explained by a rise in incidence, on the positive side, there was increased awareness among women that they didn't have to put up with violence.
However, sadly these days, he's seeing intergenerational homelessness, unemployment and domestic violence.
It's with this in mind that Coast Shelter has been working with other agencies within local schools through the Love Bites program to teach students in years 8, 9 and 10 about domestic violence, harassment and bullying, and to respect each other.
"It's one thing to meet the needs of those requiring help because they are in these situations, but we've got to break that cycle in order to improve the future," Laurie said.
The shelter also provides about 50,000 meals to the homeless, seven days a week each year through the community centre in Mann St, North Gosford.
As well as food, it's a place where the homeless can have a shower, wash clothing, receive a kind welcome and be assessed and referred to other support programs. And it's all community funded and powered by volunteers.
"We wouldn't survive without the businesses, service clubs, churches and individuals who are so generous with their finances, time and donations of goods," Laurie said.
And that's where you can help, by providing funds, volunteering or supporting upcoming events such as Live Aid '85: The Tribute concert at Laycock St Community Theatre on August 26 or the Million Star Executive Sleepout, part of Homeless Prevention Week, on August 4. So far about 30 execs have signed up to raise $1000 and get a small taste of what it's like having to sleep rough - although admittedly, Laurie said, the execs were served a meal by celebrity chef Julie Goodwin, which was not usually on the cards. There will also be a formal dinner in November to celebrate the shelter's 25th year and a picnic day for previous staff, volunteers and clients.
While he's sure things will be better "one day", Laurie said he's not sure when that day would be.
To find out more go to coastshelter.org.au.