ACT-NSW border causing difficulties for homeless in Queanbeyan

Mitchell McMahon, Andrew Connelly and John volunteer their time to cook meals for clients of St Benedict's. Photo: Elliot Williams
Mitchell McMahon, Andrew Connelly and John volunteer their time to cook meals for clients of St Benedict's. Photo: Elliot Williams

Homelessness doesn't recognise a state or territory border, says manager at St Benedict's in Queanbeyan Elaine Lollback.

However, according to Ms Lollback, the ACT-NSW border is having a significant negative impact on the region's homeless.

St Benedict's, in Queanbeyan's Crawford Street, provides meals and support to homeless people, or anyone in need, whether they are an ACT or NSW resident.

"We're one of the few organisations that doesn't recognise the border, because homelessness doesn't recognise the border," Ms Lollback said.

She reported clients using the service were often left without options as Queanbeyan did not have the full suite of services available in Canberra, yet many were turned back in the ACT for not meeting residential requirements.

St Benedict's coordinator Elaine Lollback. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

St Benedict's coordinator Elaine Lollback. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

She also said the ACT government's changes to public housing in Canberra, particularly moving people out of the CBD, had been noticed in Queanbeyan.

"There's a ripple effect in and out of Queanbeyan," Ms Lollback said.

"If people can't get help in Canberra, we're the next point of call."

NSW cross-border commissioner James McTavish said the NSW and ACT governments were currently holding discussions to develop a regional model to tackle homelessness.

“We want to see the solution to this as a regional solution as opposed to a NSW or an ACT solution," Mr McTavish said.

“People who are homeless just want the best outcome for themselves and they will move to where the best services are available. We just need to make sure we make the options to resolve the issues surrounding homelessness a regional solution as opposed to one or the other."

He said his office saw homelessness as a critical issue and with a memorandum of understanding in place between the ACT and NSW he expected action to be taken in the 2018-19 financial year.

St Benedict's receives less than $200,000 in NSW state government funding, or enough to assist about 300 people. In the last financial year the organisation assisted 540 people and is on course to either match or break that this financial year.

Ms Lollback said the organisation had seen a noticeable increase in recent months of single women looking for support and that the Queanbeyan-Palerang council had reported to her an increase of homeless people sleeping in cars and around the tourist information centre.

For Ms Lollback, who has worked in social services and with the disadvantaged for decades, it has become steadily more difficult to find homes for people.

"You used to comment if it took longer than three weeks to find someone a home," she said.

"Now you comment if it's under six months.”

However the life-changing work of St Benedict’s is plainly evident with Leah Gray and Mitchell McMahon.

The couple, who were once homeless, now have a unit and volunteer their time to give back to the organisation that gave them so much.

“The help we got here actually helped us get back on track,” Ms Gray said.

“The don’t judge you, it was a safe haven for us.”

Ms Lollback said if there were landlords willing to accept less than market value on their properties, or willing to rent to a low-income earner it would make a tangible difference to the numbers of people sleeping rough.

She said she understood why people wanted to make all they could from the rental market, which in turn pushed up rental prices.

"But the problem with that is it costs in human lives," she said.

You can support St Benedict's online or by visiting the centre at 284 Crawford Street.