Grafton Salvation Army Captain Keith Atkinson.
Grafton Salvation Army Captain Keith Atkinson. Grafton Daily Examiner

Sleeping rough in the valley

CLARENCE Valley welfare services are being stretched as an increasing number of people are affected by the triple whammy of unemployment, housing costs and an uncertain national economic outlook.

Salvation Army minister Keith Atkinson said last Thursday was the busiest day the welfare assistance service had experienced been since he moved to Grafton in January, with a constant stream of people requesting help to pay for basics such as food, medical prescriptions and electricity bills.

“Thursday last week was horrendous,” he said.

“I haven't experienced it before to that extent,”

“Whether it was because of Easter, I don't know.”

At Riverside Care in South Grafton, manager Helen Ellis said she had seen a 50 per cent rise in first-time clients seeking emergency assistance in the past three months.

She said her new clients were mainly families, with requests for help to pay for food and pharmaceuticals topping the list from January to March.

“At the moment we're managing, but do have to budget our funding,” she said.

The spotlight has also fallen on the high homeless rate on the NSW North Coast after the release of a State Parliament briefing paper, Homelessness in NSW.

The report cited figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that showed on Census night in 2006, 56 people were sleeping rough in the Clarence Valley, while there where 116 in Byron Shire and 92 in Lismore.

Homelessness NSW chief executive Sue Cripps said the report raised some interesting questions for service planning in regional areas.

“Developing a response for rough sleepers in a city is so different, obviously there are significant distances involved between towns in regional areas,” she said.

With a parliamentary committee currently working on anew State Government homeless policy framework, she said it was important any new document included a capacity for local planning.

“It's about getting non Government, not-for-profit and government agencies together, identifying issues and working out those issues,” she said.

While Ms Ellis said Riverside Care no longer dealt with emergency accommodation, she had referred a number of clients to Housing NSW over the past three months.

“There is a housing crisis here, for rental properties as well housing department there's a limit to what is available.”

Clarence Valley Council has tried to address the housing problem by developing the Clarence Valley Affordable Housing Strategy to increase the supply of affordable housing.

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