Journalist: Roxanne Fitzgerald
Every day, dozens and dozens of people queue out the front of a nondescript, corner-block building that’s easily missed if you’re not in the know.
At exactly 8.30am, the doors swing open and the line flows inside. People are given toast and hot cups of tea, they put their name down on the list for a shower and chuck their dirty clothes in the washing machine.
The Doorways Hub, operating in the regional town of Katherine, is a daily refuge from the hardships of homelessness.
But when it closes after lunch, people experiencing homelessness have nowhere to go.
Jerry Ashley is one of hundreds of people who access the Doorways Hub most days, and has welcomed first-step plans by the NT government to rectify the chronic homelessness crisis.
“[People] camp everywhere. They got a tent, they [stay] by the river … if they are camping on the street they might get fined,” Mr Ashley said.
He said it was “dangerous” for many people, and as northern Australia’s torrential wet season set in, the months ahead would be horrendous for those sleeping rough.
NT government to look into short-stay centre
The Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities has committed to investigating the “viability and benefit” of a short-stay accommodation centre in Katherine.
A department spokesperson said a study would likely “consider the need for a centre”, accommodation requirements and “provide recommendations on a Katherine-specific service delivery model”.
“Once the scope is finalised, an external provider will be engaged to conduct the feasibility study and provide recommendations for consideration,” he said.
The spokesperson says short-stay accommodation or crisis accommodation centres are typically hostel-style accommodation facilities available to people for a couple of weeks with access to a laundry, dining room and provided meals.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Mr Ashley said.
Harley Dannatt, a senior solicitor with NT Legal Aid, played a key role in getting the Doorways Hub off the ground in 2017 and now works alongside organisations addressing homelessness.
He said a crisis accommodation centre in Katherine could have an “immediate impact” in a town with “a really significant and serious situation that the rest of the country wouldn’t accept”.
“There simply aren’t enough beds in the current facilities for people to stay. We see the effect of this flow right through a number of different systems,” Mr Dannatt said.
“I hope this feasibility study and any further consultation really listens to the community because this could be our only shot and it’s been a long time since something like this has been built in Katherine. We’ve got to get it right.”
NT Shelter chief executive Peter McMillan said that after years of lobbying the NT government, the recognition that Katherine was in desperate need of short-stay accommodation was a fantastic step forward.
He added that he hoped that the final facility would be culturally appropriate and that the community and potential users would have input into the design.
Katherine has a homelessness rate 31 times the national average, Mr McMillan said.
Research by the organisation in 2020 found that 94 per cent of people visiting Katherine for medical appointments were sleeping rough.
However, Eva Lawler added that the federal government’s goal of building 1 million affordable rental homes — unveiled in the federal budget in October – would hopefully forestall people needing crisis accommodation in the first place.
“I think it’s that whole continuum, why do people end up in crisis accommodation? It’s because there is a lack of affordable housing,” she said.