The recent property boom and the ensuing lack of rental properties, caused by an influx of people moving out of cities and into rural and regional areas, is driving a rise in homelessness on the Mid North Coast.
The reason is simple, says Michelle Stokes, Samaritans community services manager Child, Youth and Families MNC - there is just not enough affordable housing to meet the demand.
"This is probably the biggest housing crisis that our service, and I could confidently speak on behalf of other service providers, has ever experienced, certainly in the five years I've worked across the homelessness space on the Mid North Coast," Ms Stokes said.
"We've never seen such a shortage and whatever is available is so unaffordable you might as well consider it a non-existent option. It's beyond crisis."
Exacerbating the situation is landlords selling up investment properties because of inflated prices.
"There is less (housing) stock but more people are applying. We've had examples of 60 people putting in applications for one property," she said.
The housing market is currently so competitive that rents have also been going up.
"Then throw in fire and floods, it's just one vicious cycle after another unfortunately," Ms Stokes said.
We've never seen such a shortage and whatever is available is so unaffordable you might as well consider it a non-existent option. It's beyond crisis.Michelle Stokes, Samaritans
The Real Estate Institute of NSW shows that the residential vacancy rate for the Mid North Coast is currently 1 per cent, compared to a rate of 3.2 per cent vacancy rate in May, 2020.
At Coffs Harbour it is even lower at 0.9 per cent and west in the New England slightly higher at 1.3 per cent.
Albury and the Northern Rivers had the lowest vacancy rate across the regions outside of metropolitan NSW.
The numbers of people accessing the Samaritans for help in April this year spiked.
"The numbers are absolutely astronomical," Ms Stokes said.
Read more: NSW to trial crisis housing for homeless
There is still a small amount of temporary accommodation available in motels and caravan parks, however costs for what is available can go up to $1000 a week for one room with no cooking facilities.
The Samaritans are the only homelessness service in Taree, apart from the Youth Homelessness Service. In Port Macquarie and Kempsey they complement services including YP Space, a specialist youth homelessness service; social housing through Community Housing Ltd and support services such as New Horizons.
The Samaritans have a "No Wrong Door" policy whereby they do not turn anyone seeking assistance away.
"If it's a crisis, we have to fit them in," Ms Stokes said.
Read more: Homelessness spikes as support wound back
The majority of people who have been left homeless who are not sleeping rough or have been sought assistance from the Samaritans are sleeping in their cars or couch surfing.
"More (housing) stock would have to be affordable stock. And that is, in essence, social housing. Until we get a lot more social housing built in all regions up and down the whole of the Mid North Coast, homelessness services will continue to be pushed into supporting people," Ms Stokes said.
In Port Macquarie and Taree, the current wait list for social housing (as at December 2020) is five to 10 years for one or two bedroom accommodation.
For three bedrooms, the wait jumps to 10-plus years in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, according to the latest figures by NSW Department of Communities and Justice.
There are 711 applicants on the wait list in Port Macquarie with 93 registered as a priority.
Across NSW, there are more than 46,000 applicants on the housing register.
The NSW government will trial using vacant land and buildings in Wollongong as temporary crisis accommodation for people at risk of homelessness.
The plan, announced as part of the state's first housing strategy, will provide transitional housing for up to two years while longer term housing solutions are sorted.
The state will also call on other local governments, non-government organisations and the private sector to pitch other additional projects to meet the premier's goal of reducing homelessness by 50 per cent, Minister for Housing Melinda Pavey said.
The strategy, which also contains a two-year action plan, will also aim to modernise the state's social housing portfolio, most of which was built before the 1970s, and make renting a more secure, longer-term housing option.
What else is making news?
- Truth-telling and acknowledgement of history important for reconciliation
- Tails wag at Port Macquarie Dachshund Group's Biggest Morning Tea
- Sought-after community grants provide financial helping hand
- Roads less travelled as rally drivers rev up for Beyond Blue trek
- Vikings set to Make a Difference in derby clash with Pirates
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: