Homelessness getting worse: Salvos

"Things are getting more desperate here": Lieutenant Jon Belmonte from The Salvation Army has noticed a rise in the number of Blue Mountains residents living rough or becoming homeless.

The rising cost of living and a sudden shortage of accommodation options in the Blue Mountains has led to a noticeable rise in people ‘living rough’, according to The Salvation Army Upper Mountains Corps.

Lieutenant Jon Belmonte said while new public housing and crisis accommodation places have been added in Sydney’s metropolitan area in the last two years, demand had outweighed supply in the Upper Mountains at a time when the cost of gas, electricity, petrol and rents had soared.

“The same number of people are coming to us in desperation but there are less numbers of rooms and therefore places to put them in,” he said.

“Several budget accommodation places in Katoomba are no longer accepting homeless people, the local refuges are full at the moment and there are a lot of homeless single men and women, some with children or with mental health issues or special needs that fall through the gap and can’t all be accommodated together in the refuges.”

Lieutenant Belmonte estimates about nine out of 10 homeless people in the Upper Mountains are long-term local residents.

“One man who cares for his 20-year-old disabled son approached me last month when he was told he could no longer stay in his Katoomba budget accommodation room — the local MP (Roza Sage) arranged for a two-week extension before he has to vacate but after that we don’t know what will happen.

“Another man who recently separated has nowhere to live, has no income and has registered with the Department of Housing so he is living in his car until a place becomes available, but that could take years.

“Another bloke I know of found a disused shed on the side of the railway line and is living in it at the moment.

“He’d be the fourth male and second female up here I’ve recently met who are living rough — they are locals, people you may have gone to school with.

“I often ask them why they live in the Blue Mountains and they say they are from here, they grew up here and have family here.”

Lieutenant Belmonte said more transitional accommodation and public housing needs to be provided in the Blue Mountains as a priority and the State and Federal Governments need to work together to achieve that goal.

“The last option is to move them to refuges in Penrith, Blacktown, Parramatta and Seven Hills but that can cause great stress.”

He advised people to come to the Salvos or other organisations like St Vincent de Paul, Uniting Church, Anglicare or the Glue Factory (a youth support service) sooner rather than later if in genuine need of assistance.

“There are some government assistance packages for people in need but the guidelines for those are very strict and the amount of assistance does not seem to be keeping up in proportion with the cost of living.

“We provide breakfasts three days a week and give people clothing and blankets and we do what we can to help, but we are restricted in what we can do.

“All the stuff we have to help people is provided by this [Katoomba Salvos] shop, donations and from the Red Shield Appeal.”