INVISIBLE ISSUE: Deb Lightfoot-De Hamer said some people were sleeping rough in Stanthorpe, but most cases of homelessness were invisible, with people sleeping in cars, tents and on couches.
INVISIBLE ISSUE: Deb Lightfoot-De Hamer said some people were sleeping rough in Stanthorpe, but most cases of homelessness were invisible, with people sleeping in cars, tents and on couches. Malcolm Wells

Politicians pledge to help Southern Downs homeless crisis

DESPERATE pleas for emergency accommodation have reached the ears of local politicians with, but welfare groups can only hope it will lead to solid action.

State member for Southern Downs James Lister was sympathetic towards recent calls from Southern Downs welfare groups to establish emergency accommodation in the region amid a growing housing crisis.

"I think the best thing the government can do in this situation is to fund the community support groups directly,” he said.

"It is a growing problem in society and government needs to support people in communities who know the best solutions to these problems.”

Mr Lister acknowledged the effort of volunteers and not-for-profit groups who have been pulling at threads to try and house the growing number of homeless people in the region.

"The people who run those organisations work very hard and it is very difficult for them to turn people away,” Mr Lister said.

"All of us, myself included, have to advocate for their funding.”

Mr Lister promised to help community welfare groups apply for support through the department of communities.

But with winter on its way, Stanthorpe Community Op Shop and Network Centre director Deb Lightfoot-De Hamer said the time for talking was over.

"I hate to think what all these people living in cars and tents are going to do when the temperatures really start to drop,” she said.

With "next to no services” in the region, Mrs Lightfoot-De Hamer said it was a scramble to find last-minute emergency accommodation every time someone came to her for help.

"All the caravan parks here are full because it is picking season so we can't even get them into caravans,” she said.

"I am at a loss over what to do, you can only do so much.”

Debbie Lightfoot and Sandy Haynes from Stanthorpe Community Op Shop have made a plea for more unwanted blankets.
HIDDEN HOMELESSNESS: Deb Lightfoot-De Hamer said the op shop has been going through swags and boxes of food "like you would not believe”. Liana Turner

In a single week, Mrs Lightfoot-De Hamer helped three different individuals in need of emergency housing in Stanthorpe.

"When I got to work last week there was a young, school-aged girl sleeping on the ground another young girl has been sleeping in public toilets and parks,” she said.

"In the same week there was another older lady in her late 50s who has a son on meth and he had tossed her out of the house.

"One of the other charities helped the police get the woman a night's accommodation but what is to become of her when her night is up, I haven't got a clue.”

Others became homeless when escaping domestic violence situations.

She said people were particularly struggling during the fruit picking season in Stanthorpe.

"Don't get me wrong I love our backpackers, they keep our town going, but I just don't think it's right the way the rent goes through the roof when the picking season starts.”

Mrs Lightfoot-De Hamer said she would like to see collaboration between welfare groups to build emergency housing units or renovate an existing building for that purpose.

"I have said this before but I would love to get a get-together for all the community groups and get some sort of structure or an existing building transformed to emergency housing,” she said.

"We need some government-backed funding to have some emergency accommodation set up.”

Warwick and Stanthorpe Salvation Army Corps Officer Zak Churchill agreed the situation was "desperate”.

"It's been pretty constant in Warwick, and it really doesn't discriminate between people of ages and family structures,” he said.

"We are not in an economic climate that is friendly to people who are already vulnerable.”

Mr Churchill hoped the attention from politicians would result in real action.

"I have seen a lot of people want to do something but the funding is not there to,” he said.

"We need a level of government to actually invest in it and make it happen. Everyone is keen but we just need them to throw some money at us.”

Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie said council provided 44 long-term community housing options across the Southern Downs region, but homelessness was an issue for state and federal government.

"Council undertook a two-year study into youth homelessness and that provided a lot of statistics for the community groups of the region that do support those in a homeless situation,” Cr Dobie said.

The report published in 2016 identified a need for collaboration between community sectors to establish a one-stop community hub, crisis accommodation and supported accommodation to address and prevent youth homelessness.

The survey found in a 12-monht period, 147 young people in the Southern Downs reported they had no place to go and 50 had slept in a park or on the street during