Homeless man Bernie Abols urges politicians to take time to understand the plight of people who are homeless. (ABC News: Lexi Metherell)
The electorate of Wentworth is notorious for its abundance of harbourside mansions, but amidst the mansions, luxury cars and yachts, there is desperation.
Recently, a social services organisation was shocked when an 82-year-old woman turned up on their doorstep.
- Housing refuge says it regularly sees women from the Wentworth electorate
- Anglicare estimates fewer than 1 per cent of private rental properties in Wentworth’s eastern suburbs are affordable for low-income earners
- Campaign called Everybody’s Home says social housing investment is going backwards in Australia, while demand is climbing
The women’s daytime refuge, Lou’s Place, helped care for her and find her somewhere to live.
“She’d been sleeping in her car for about a week,” said the general manager of Lou’s Place, Nicole Yade.
“She had grown up in the eastern suburbs her whole life, and had lived with her husband in private rental accommodation.
“When he passed away, relatively quickly she ran out of savings, and she was unable to afford to stay in the accommodation she was in.
“She was probably once doing pretty well and as time passed and life changed, and there was illness and changes with relationships with children, they found themselves in a situation that they would never ever have anticipated.”
Lou’s place case manager Jenny Holmes, volunteer coordinator Bec Fitzgerald and executive manager Nicole Yade. (ABC News: Lexi Metherell)
Social services groups say often the homelessness in the electorate is hidden.
Lou’s Place is just outside Wentworth, in Kings Cross, but Ms Yade says it regularly sees women from the wealthy electorate.
“The most common group of women that we see are women who are couch-surfing from house to house every couple of days, or week to week,” she said.
“We see women who are sleeping in cars, we see women who are in refuge or temporary accommodation — that kind of homelessness is really real.”
Anglicare estimates that fewer than 1 per cent of private rental properties in Wentworth’s eastern suburbs are affordable for low-income earners.
Even the crisis refuge services for kids in Bondi, Caretakers Cottage, is staffed by people who can’t afford to live there.
“None of my staff live in the electorate, we all live way outside of the area,” founder Laurie Matthews says.
“I live in the Illawarra, although I grew up in the eastern suburbs.
“I wasn’t able to afford a house in the eastern suburbs so I set up elsewhere — like policemen, like nurses, like everybody who needs to be able to access affordable housing.”
A campaign called Everybody’s Home says 21 per cent of households are suffering rental stress, which means more than 30 per cent of their income is going to rent.
Social services groups say there is pressure from governments to push people out of the expensive areas and in to more affordable homes.
“That’s a really simplistic way to look at homelessness and people who are on the brink of homelessness, when they have very strong reasons to be in an area they’ve lived their whole life — whether it’s ageing parents, whether it’s children in school system,” said Kate Timmins, the chief executive of Wentworth-based women’s housing services B Miles.
“It’s simplistic thinking that everyone can leave this area and move to another area and sustain those important connections.”
She said much of the homeless problem in Wentworth is not seen, because people will couch-surf for as long as they can.
“The census data’s actually telling us that lots of people are living in overcrowded dwellings, because they can’t afford to have a place of their own to sleep,” she said.
The Everybody’s Home campaign says social housing investment is going backwards in Australia, while demand is climbing.
It’s calling for support for first home-buyers, a National Housing Strategy, a better deal for renters, immediate relief for Australians in chronic rental stress, and a plan to end homelessness by 2030.
Bondi Pavilion a refuge for some
Bernie Abols says the Bondi Pavilion is a safe place to sleep, and he gets support there from the local community. (ABC News: Lexi Metherell)
Bondi Pavilion is one of the landmarks of the beach, and for years the alcoves under its arches have provided shelter for rough sleepers.
Bernie Abols, 48, has been sleeping there on and off for 15 years.
He was orphaned as a child and raised by his grandparents in Cabramatta, in Sydney’s south-west, at a time when gang violence and drugs were rife in the area.
He has spent time in jail where he learnt to do dot paintings from his Aboriginal prison mates.
He says the Pavilion is a safe place to sleep and he gets support there from the local community, who bring down food.
Twice a week, those sleeping under the arches move their belongings out, and the council workers clean the space.
Mr Abols’ message to political leaders is to be empathetic and take time to understand the plight of people who are homeless.