By Rachel Riga
As the cold winter weather starts to hit Brisbane, welfare services have expressed concern over the high numbers of homeless people being turned away from emergency housing.
Street Swags founder and managing director Jean Madden says Queensland has high turn away rates for those in need.
“People turn up looking for emergency accommodation and nearly all of them, about 94 per cent, are turned away because there are not enough beds,” she said.
Ms Madden created Street Swags as a way to provide discreet bedding and protection for people on the streets.
“For the majority of people we supply to, especially women and children, it’s a liability having something that is an obvious bedroll on your back,” she said.
“They become a target for vilification and abuse so the aim was to have something that was incredibly discreet and practical.”
Workers from several welfare services have expressed their concern over the lack of shelter services available in Brisbane.
139 Club Inc. manager Wendy Hovard says the recent change in temperature created many problems.
“Without a doubt people are getting colds through this season,” she said.
“We had really hot weather and then all of a sudden it’s changed very quickly.
“When you’re exposed to elements and have those drastic temperature drops, you’re more susceptible to picking up the flu and getting a cold.
“I think that what we find through winter is a lot of our clients struggle with having the flu and that’s why we provide services like the flu shot and vitamins to help protect them.”
Ms Hovard says as the weather starts to cool many of her clients choose not to use welfare services, adding to the increasing homeless numbers on the street.
“There are a couple of big emergency service providers like Salvation Army and OzCare who provide beds at South Brisbane.
“We find that a number of our clients either have a debt and are unable to return to those services or they choose not to go back to those services.
“Often people are not wanting to share spaces, they’re not trusting other people and they prefer to be on the streets rather having to negotiate other personalities in those emergency accommodations.”
Welfare worker at the Salvation Army Michele Davis agrees and says the colder weather has led to an increase in demand in the centre’s services.
“With the cold weather we have more people looking to come in especially with showers and trying to keep warm,” she said.
“The main aim is trying to get people in somewhere.
“We have a list of boarding houses which provide food and shelter and we provide Streetlevel which provides lunch four days a week and Youth Outreach has a laundry if they need to use that.
“We try the best we can with the limited resources.”
Ms Davis says it is a regular occurrence to have people sleeping out the front of the centre.
“If we can’t find anywhere for people to stay they end up sleeping out the front of the building here,” she said
“We have some swags and blankets at the moment but basically it’s just that type of situation.”
Brisbane Streetlevel Mission activities coordinator Luke Miekus says they let people sleep outside the centre for protection and safety.
“We let people sleep out the front because we believe it is a safer environment for them than in the city or valley,” he said.
“What we do is we connect with them first thing in the morning, have breakfast with them and try to help them plan their day and everyday we’re trying to help them get their accommodation sorted, get their Centerlink sorted and help them in any way we can.”
Mr Miekus says the issue is more far reaching than people realise.
“The homeless issue is massive and I think we are just helping a drop in the ocean,” he said.
“We probably help upwards of 20 to 30 people a day, that’s new comers to the centre not people who have been coming for a long time.”
Mr Miekus says multiple factors contribute to the problem.
“In Brisbane there’s really no option, we have a problem with high renting prices, not enough availability with public and community housing, crisis accommodation centres are booked and one of the biggest problems is couples aren’t often able to be housed together.
“As you can imagine they are quite emotional and quiet fragile and they don’t want to separate.
“Couples choose to stay on the street because they want to be together and so one of the things really missing in Brisbane is a place for couples and women and children to go.”
Below is a video of founder and managing Director of Street Swags, Jean Madden, showing how the swag works.