Last year the Shoalhaven community got together to operate a homeless shelter through winter in the Wesley Centre in Nowra. This year through the Safe Shelter project it’s going one step further, opening a dedicated year around home in the old Neighbourhood Centre in Kinghorn Street.
“I feel really excited that we have managed to solve this.” Said Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findley. “It’s not the complete solution for everybody. But it’s somewhere the current people can get relief from the weather, and it connects them with services, and that’s really important. It’s a really classic example of Council working really well with community, and the desire of the community to do something in that space. The State and Federal governments need to get on board too and be a bit more supportive.”
Last year saw different groups and individuals come from everywhere to find a place for homeless people to shelter, while they attempt to find something more permanent to live and get on with their lives.
“The need in the area already exceeds the 12 beds we have, so we are already looking to expand. If more people come we will organise something, either the Wesley hall, or work with another organisation,” said John Steel, who along with Lesley Lane runs the centre. Both positions are full time and voluntary. There are a further 250 volunteers on the books who work the overnight shifts. It’s quite an operation.
Major renovations were necessary; two bathrooms had to be put in, a laundry, and a kitchen, the work being enabled by a large donation received from a family in the community. The group has also secured 6 repurposed buses from Sydney to convert into accommodation if the Council is able to rezone some land for the purpose.
Last minute jobs are still being completed, a big rush before the opening on 2nd July.
The Shoalhaven has long been a vulnerable area with unemployment levels amongst the highest in the country. With more and more government services being sold off, the least wealthy suffer the most as prices creep up, and the gap between rich and poor becomes greater.
Linsey Lane knows the situation well “For whatever reason, people become homeless. They lose their job and lose their home. Technically 75% of this community is just two pay cheques away from homelessness. You miss a couple of payments and someone takes your house.”