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More rough sleeping on the streets of Sydney

The City of Sydney released its Street Count figures on April 12. It is not surprising, but rough sleeping is up by 23 per cent compared with the same time last year. Two-hundred-and-seventy-seven people were found sleeping rough in the local area, up from 225 in February last year.

It adds up. We are getting much greater demand on our services at Rough Edges, a drop in centre for vulnerable people in Darlinghurst. We simply can’t keep up with the number of calls we receive for assistance directly from people on the edges or from other services. In recent conversations I’ve had with Rough Edges patrons, two of them spoke with me about evictions hanging over their heads. Sadly, I believe this will be a common story this year.

The Street Count is one way the City of Sydney looks at important markers on homelessness in the inner city and its surroundings. Not only is rough sleeping up, but there was also a slight increase for people living in assisted accommodation. According to Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, “When the city went into lockdown, people sleeping rough were rushed into temporary accommodation and many were then supported into longer-term housing. We now have nearly 300 people sleeping on city streets each night, with much of the extra help available through the pandemic now dried up or discontinued.”

Her comments relate to the significant efforts state governments made to provide adequate housing for homeless people during the pandemic, many of whom were provided hotel accommodation as short-term relief. This is perhaps one of the main factors why we dropped from 334 rough sleepers in February 2020 to only 225 two years later. National Census figures also bear this out as the actual number of rough sleepers dropped between 2016 and 2021.

But, at least two things need to be borne in mind: the complexity of homelessness is changing, with a major shift of people moving into assisted housing and boarding houses, the latter providing little protections for their residents. The other point is that homelessness is so complex that we need multiple services to help people not only to find homes but help them stay there.

Funding, practical help and stronger networks are necessary to provide long-term accommodation solutions to what is a major problem in our city.

Rough Edges provides an important contribution to a complex problem. But will 2023 prove an even bigger challenge than the Covid years for smaller agencies such as ours?


Gabriel Lacoba is CEO of St John’s Community Services, including Rough Edges. Donate here

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