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Homeless shelters struggle to meet demand -

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Homeless shelters struggle to meet demand

The World Today - Thursday, 4 June , 2009 12:14:00

Reporter: Jennifer Macey

PETER CAVE: Despite the economy's narrowly avoiding a technical recession, homeless shelters in
Sydney are reporting that the situation is getting worse not better. One centre says there's been a
50 per cent increase in demand for housing and employment support since October last year.

These experiences are reflected in the latest ACOSS survey which has reported a 19 per cent
increase in demand for community services and more disturbingly a 17 per cent increase in the
number of people being turned away.

Jennifer Macey reports.

JENNIFER MACEY: At an inner-city Mission Australia Centre in Sydney there are eight people learning
how to write resumes and look for employment at a job skills workshop. They include some of the
centre's 40 or so short-term housing residents.

Jack has been staying at the centre for the past three weeks. He says in the past few months things
have become more difficult.

JACK: Look I just saw things getting harder for everyone. The queues were getting longer. You turn
up at Centrelink and notice that prior there was only one or two people and then you get to the end
and it's like a queue out the door.

JENNIFER MACEY: But he says he's one of the lucky ones because he's managed to get short-term
housing and a caseworker to support him.

JACK: Now that ironically even with more people are using services and things like that, service
providers have had to cut back on services because of funding and things like that. They've got to
cut back on things like staff and services I think, yeah.

JENNIFER MACEY: The Mission Australia Centre provides a range of services. Alongside the living
spaces and the nine affordable housing units for low income earners there's also an arts and music
facility for marginalised young people, a dental clinic, a GP, legal support and counselling for
financial and gambling problems, plus help finding a job or long-term accommodation.

The centre's manager Diana Jazic says she's seen an a phenomenal jump in demand for these services.

DIANA JAZIC: Since oh, approximately October of last year we've seen almost a 50 per cent increase
in referrals for accommodation. And just to give you an idea, during the month of April, I haven't
analysed the stats for May yet, April we had 117 referrals for accommodation that we were not able
to accommodate.

JENNIFER MACEY: That you had to turn away?

DIANA JAZIC: What we do is we refer them to other NGOs in the inner-city area hoping that they
would be able to accommodate them. We may refer them back to the Homeless Persons Information
Centre. So we try not to turn them away without any hope or any possibility of gaining
accommodation elsewhere. But certainly 117 requests for accommodation, we couldn't accommodate
here, in one month.

JENNIFER MACEY: And so that's not just a seasonal change? Just as it becomes winter more people are
seeking services that they otherwise wouldn't during the summer months?

DIANA JAZIC: No, it's not seasonal because this increase occurred October last year and that's not
the winter time. I've been managing this centre now for four years and I have not seen a trend like
this in these four years. This is quite unusual.

JENNIFER MACEY: And she says the type of people seeking help is also changing, with a lot more
newly unemployed asking for help.

The experience at shelters such as this one in Sydney is reflected in a new survey by ACOSS. It
shows that almost 300,000 people, or one in 12, were turned away from various social services. This
is a 17 per cent increase since last year before the global financial crisis really began to bite.

The CEO of ACOSS Clare Martin says service providers are struggling to meet the demand.

CLARE MARTIN: It's going to be tough for the services, for a lot of services they have always, the
church groups have also, have always cross-subsidised these services from their own investments.
Those investments have shrunk. It's going to make it tough all round and we certainly are, as a
peak organisation talking to Government about the increasing demands on the services, community and
the welfare services being provided to Australians.

JENNIFER MACEY: Diana Jazic the manager of the Mission Australia Centre in Surry Hills says it's
not just a problem of dwindling funding. She says the economic downturn has even had an impact on
the 150 volunteers who help provide the services at the centre.

DIANA JAZIC: A lot of people that were self retired, retirees have had to go back to work and so
on. So certainly there is that other side that we're seeing in our agencies where we do rely on
volunteers to provide a vital support for the very homeless, marginalised and disadvantaged. That
is actually now suffering as well due to the current economic circumstances.

JENNIFER MACEY: Meanwhile Jack is having difficulty finding a job despite having completed a
diploma at TAFE and undertaking university studies through the Mission Australia Centre.

JACK: I think that this economic global decline has sort of given everyone a big reality cheque.
Yeah, I think it's a big wakeup call for everyone.

PETER CAVE: Jack, one of the residents of Mission Australia Centre in Sydney ending that report
from Jennifer Macey.