#HOMELESSNESSMATTERS: Coast Shelter CEO Rachel Willis and Member for Dobell Emma McBride were among people paying tribute to those who have died on Coast streets and looking for answers during National Homelessness Week.
#HOMELESSNESSMATTERS: Coast Shelter CEO Rachel Willis and Member for Dobell Emma McBride were among people paying tribute to those who have died on Coast streets and looking for answers during National Homelessness Week.

Twenty die in Coast's growing homeless crisis

MORE than 20 people have died homeless on Central Coast streets in the past 18 months.

Fr Rod Bower gave the shocking statistic as he led a memorial service to those who had died.

The service was followed by a 200-strong #HomelessnessMatters march in Gosford, led by Shoebox Revolution organisers, sisters Rebecca Law and Sheridan Lenton.

Shoebox Revolution provides up to 220 shoebox-size care packages each month to help the Central Coast's homeless, believed to number up to 100 people each night.

On the night of August 9, when temperatures got down to about 5 degrees, 24 men were on the shelter's waiting list after all the beds had been filled, at least half of whom would have to sleep rough.

Over the last decade, the number of older homelesss people has increased by almost 50%, according to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, with women over 55 the fastest growing group.

Sixteen percent, or 18,600, of the people reported homeless on 2016 Census night were aged over 55, and of course many homeless would not even show up in these statistics.

AIHW points to a chronic shortage of affordable housing, more people renting and upward pressures on rent and other daily living costs, with little change to welfare payments.

Job loss, divorce, domestic and family violence, health issues and simply "running out of money" in older age, despite having worked throughout their lives, are among issues for older people.

Not all are living rough on the streets, with some in boarding houses, cars, caravans, or moving around friends' houses where possible, but they still have nowhere to call home.

"The need is getting worse ... our most recent figures show that we are only able to accommodate one person from every five that seeks crisis accommodation," said Coast Shelter CEO Rachel Willis.

She called for "a focus on increasing housing supply and affordability, providing access to health services and supports and seriously looking at New Start allowances to address the great poverty divide".

Federal Member for Dobell Emma McBride attended the memorial service wearing Shoebox Revolution socks to support the local charity.

"But it should not be left to charities and not-for-profits to solve our escalating homelessness crisis," she said.

She said investing in crisis accommodation made social and economic sense.

"Melbourne University research found every $1 invested in crisis accommodation returns savings of $2.70 across the health, justice and social security sectors," Emma said.

"People are passing away unable to access safe, affordable housing, medical services and unable to get help with drug and alcohol addictions and mental health."

Shoebox Revolution's Rebecca and Sheridan said it had been an honour to lead the march.

They shared on Facebook the experience of meeting one of their recipients, Rick, who provided a reminder that "no matter how small you think your act of kindness is by donating to Shoebox Revolution, it means the absolute world to the people who receive these donations".

"He told us how excited he was to get a box of Coco Pops in his last shoebox," they wrote.

"The gratitude of this man was inconceivable."

You can find Shoebox Revolution on Facebook or look out for their big yellow donation bins at local businesses, and find Coast Shelter at https://coastshelter.org.au or call 4325 3540.


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