The 'perfect storm' of a worldwide pandemic, growth in population and an exodus of city dwellers to regional areas has resulted in a rise of people becoming homeless in the Port Macquarie-Hastings region.
Manager of the Hastings Neighbourhood Services Leesa-Rae Harrison said a rise in rental prices is pushing locals out of the housing market and leading to more people becoming homeless in our area.
"We have always had a number of people in the area who are homeless as a result of mental health issues which can make it difficult for them to hold a tenancy, but now we are seeing people getting priced out of rentals and house sales and finding themselves without somewhere to live," she said.
"There are people who are on low income who just can't afford the price of rentals even though they are employed."
Ms Harrison said there has also been an increase in people purchasing houses to live in instead of buying them as investment properties which has meant less rentals on the market.
"We have seen the prices of properties in Wauchope, for example, jump $100,000 which pushes locals out of the market who are looking to buy a home."
An exodus from the city to the regions has pushed property and rent prices to elevate even further.
"There has also been the increase of people from the city moving to the area because they're able to work from home," Ms Harrison said.
"The price of rent or buying a home here, although it has risen, it's still a cheaper option for people from the city."
Local real estate agents have confirmed there is a high amount of stress on the market.
HEM Property director Kristian Murphy said there is an average of five to 10 applications for each of their rental properties.
"Prior to the current Sydney Covid lockdown, we were seeing a higher number of people moving to the area from the city," he said.
"We have seen this demand for rentals increase over the past six to 12 months.
"I'm in my 19th year in the industry and haven't seen the market be this volatile for sales and rentals."
This is echoed by CEO of Elders Real Estate Port Macquarie David Gray.
"What we saw was a dramatic shift in the market in a short amount of time and people haven't caught up because it happened so quickly," he said.
A few months ago, Mr Gray said they were receiving between 15 and 20 applications for each rental property.
"The market is very much not in tenants favour at the moment."
The face of homelessness is changing
Ms Harrison said due to rent and house prices rising, more people who were never at risk of being homeless are now finding themselves faced with that reality.
"There is a new group of people who are now finding themselves at risk of being homeless," she said.
"It used to be the view that if you had a job and could pay the bills you would have a place to live, but that isn't the case anymore."
Local Neighbourhood Centres and homelessness support services have seen an increase in people seeking help who are employed but no longer have a place to live.
"The new group of people who have become homeless don't have the same resilience as people who have been in this position for a while," Ms Harrison said.
"They also find it more difficult to attend charity services to ask for help because they have never had to do it before and there is shame that people feel when they suddenly become homeless.
"We've also seen that many people don't want to attend help services if they are living in their car with children because they then risk loosing their kids due to their living circumstances."
Many people who have recently become homeless are now being moved to crisis accommodation.
"During Covid the government released funds for crisis accommodation to help with the issue as a temporary measure.
"A number of holiday parks in the area are being used as accommodation for the homeless and we have seen people being moved from hotel to hotel.
"The situation isn't ideal, but until we have more affordable housing availability the issue won't be resolved."
Many services who offer support for the homeless are under pressure, however Ms Harrison said everyone is doing their best.
"Everyone who can help is doing just that, but they are beyond capacity," she said.
"We are encouraging landlords to take less rent to help house people who are homeless to help ease the burden."
The current issue of homelessness, Ms Harrison said, won't be resolved until there is more affordable housing.
"Until there are more housing and jobs in our area, we won't see this issue improve," she said.
People in the community who are homeless are encouraged to reach out to organisations in the Port Macquarie-Hastings including New Horizons, NSW Health, their local Neighbourhood Centre and Community Housing Limited.
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