Funding is essential to keep Uniting Wimmera on the front line of homelessness in the Wimmera through their Street to Home Program, but a recent unsuccessful grant application has put that program at risk.
"Housing and homelessness are at crisis level in the Wimmera," Senior Manager for Homelessness Mr. Adam Liverage said. " And this funding was vital for our support of rough sleepers."
As the seasons change, so do the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.
"This funding loss has placed our program, Street to Home, at risk," he said.
"During winter, we provide warmth, food, clothing, and housing, but the need continues even when the weather warms up," Mr Liverage said.
"We provide drinking water, sunscreen, hats, and suitable clothing, in addition to food and shelter, which is a year-round need," he said.
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Glenn Kimberley has been an Assertive Outreach Officer for about nine months; he has identified 100 rough sleepers in the Wimmera and knows there are more.
"We have already seen the effects of rising living costs, rental increases, and housing shortage. Many more need assistance for the first time, so we expect those numbers to increase, " Mr Kimberley said
The one identifiable factor he sees in the people he works with is that they are homeless through no fault of their own. Most have experienced trauma, and once they are on the outer of society, it is hard to return.
"I just offer a candle of hope."
"Trauma can be a marriage breakdown, illness, or job loss. Trauma can come in many forms; it can be untreated mental health, debt, or loss of housing. Every person's experience is different. And the ability to deal with trauma and crisis is individual too," he said.
Homeless people need mobile phones for various reasons, including safety, health, home availability, and generally to keep in contact with services, but summer brings a more dire reason.
Many people seek shelter in national parks, wooded areas, and free camping sites, so a mobile phone can be life-saving during bushfire season.
"I depend on community members to keep me informed about where rough sleepers are so we can assist them year-round, but in summer, it is a safety issue," Mr Kimberley said.
"If they have a phone, I can warn them on high fire risk days or if there is a fire in the area and help get them to safety," he said.
In addition to the lack of housing, some of the everyday challenges facing the people Uniting see are untreated health conditions, dental issues, and mental health problems.
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"Our primary focus is housing, but with rising rental prices, it is more out of reach than it has ever been for many people on a fixed income," Mr Liverage said.
"The waiting list for community assistance housing among our clients can be up to 10 years, and one client has been sleeping rough for 13 years," Mr Liverage said.
"Early assistance is essential to help turn a life around, so funding for our program is vital."
Uniting has one Assertive Outreach worker but needs at least four.
"The Assertive Outreach Program is achieving great things in Ballarat and the Central Highlands, and we need to do the same in the Wimmera," he said.
"Services in the Wimmera should not be a luxury," Mr Liverage said.
"If the June 30, 2024, state budget does not include funding for this program, there will be 100 rough sleepers unsupported and probably more.
"We will apply for funding in the next round of grants, but in the meantime, we need to seek other avenues of support," he said.
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"Grampians Community Health is also working with homelessness and has more than 40 individuals and family groups within its homelessness programs in the Northern Grampians Shire and Ararat Rural City Council.
"The GCH team of four case managers assists with a diverse set of homelessness situations, including rough sleepers, people couch surfing, sleeping in overcrowded housing, living in inhabitable dwellings, and families where their tenancy is ending and there is nowhere else to go.
GCH's manager of Family Violence, Gemma Beavis, said there was more demand for crisis accommodation in the region.
"Due to lack of affordable and safe housing options, GCH is using its limited funding on crisis support, rather than being able to address sourcing and supporting long-term housing options," Ms Beavis said.
"A trend we have noticed is families being separated due to the lack of access to appropriate and safe housing to stay together
"Case managers are also seeing a stronger presentation for homelessness support due to escaping family violence. As a multidisciplinary team, we can provide wrap-around services for these individuals and families."
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