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‘We might be dead before we get a house’ – homelessness crisis

Katherine remains in a housing crisis with more people sleeping rough, per capita, than anywhere else in the nation.

Katherine Times

Journalist: Roxanne Fitzgerald

Katherine remains in a housing crisis with more people sleeping rough, per capita, than anywhere else in the nation.

Chronically underfunded and sitting at 31 times the national rate of homelessness, NT Shelter executive officer Peter McMillan says we have a massive problem on our hands.

“We need to see greater commitment from our leaders… it is possible to fix homelessness,” Mr McMillan said.

“With such high rates of homelessness in Katherine a lot of work needs to be done.”

Katherine’s most vulnerable people, most of which don’t know where they will be sleeping tonight or if they will be getting a meal, stand to lose with the NT Government reducing funding for front line services.

“We know that across the NT one in two requests for assistance remain unmet because there is not enough funding,” Mr McMillan said.

“78 per cent of that unmet demand comes from women fleeing things such as domestic violence.

“We have a particular concern for Katherine and we can’t afford to jeopardise people by cutting vital funding.”

In Katherine, homelessness can takes many shapes and forms, Mr McMillan said.

“Just because you don’t see people (sleeping rough) on the main street doesn’t mean it is not a serious problem.

“From our perspective, whether you are sleeping on the river banks, in the long grass, in a house of 20 people or on a couch, it is just as bad.”

For Katherine couple Lois Jongawabga and Brian Manyita, finding a place to sleep each night is a constant concern.

They stayed at Lois’s daughter’s house last night, but not wanting to be a burden, they will most likely be sleeping elsewhere tonight – they are not sure where yet.

“Every night is a different place,” Mr Manyita said today at the Katherine Doorways Hub.

The couple know the place well and come for breakfast and lunch every day. It is a refuge – somewhere to fuel up, have a shower and leave their small amount of belongings while they sort accommodation for the night.

“If we can’t stay with family we sleep in the long grass,” Mr Manyita said.

The couple have been waiting for housing for years, joining thousands of others who typically remain on the list for up to six years.

“We might be dead before we get a house,” Mr Manyita said.

The outlook is grim, but the couple, who are unable to work due to disabilities, has remained positive – mainly due to services in Katherine, which cater to helping people caught up in the housing crisis.

“If you walk along the river at night you see tents everywhere, and campfires.

The NT Shelter board visited Katherine today, where homelessness rates are the highest per capita in Australia. Pictured: Donna Feltus, Kay Wallis, NT Shelter executive officer Peter McMillan, Merilee Cox, Katherine Doorways Hub coordinator Harley Dannatt, Joan Meredith and NT Shelter president Jean Ah Chee.

“They all come to the Hub in the day, but have nowhere to go at night.”

Homelessness funding in the NT stands to be cut by three times the level of other front line services.

And for Brian and Lois, whom go without dinner every night – there is no service in Katherine to provide a meal to those who need it after dark – the cuts are sure to hit hard.

NT Shelters is calling on the government to meet funding needs in order to meaningfully tackle the disproportionate levels of homelessness in the NT.

The not-for-profit organisation was in Katherine today for their board meeting and to meet with stakeholders.

NT Shelter, the Northern Territory Council of Social Service and a number of non-government organisations have made representations to the government to express their concerns about the impact of a three per cent “efficiency dividend” on front line homelessness services.

A response from the government has not yet been received.

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