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CareSouth’s Shoalhaven Youth Support Service (SYSS) was the first stop on a bus tour across Nowra to raise awareness of the housing affordability crisis in the Shoalhaven during Homelessness Week.

The tour was organised by the Shoalhaven Homelessness Interagency, which includes SYSS, in a bid to highlight the need for more accessible and affordable housing in the region.

The most recent census figures show homelessness has increased by 24.5% in the Shoalhaven over the past five years, with almost 300 people identifying as homeless on any given night.

Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward joined the bus tour and was able to hear first-hand the impact homelessness has on those experiencing it, particularly those under 25 where two in every five people have no fixed address.

“The NSW Government is committed to halving rough sleeping across the state by 2025,” Mr Ward said. “However, we recognise that homelessness can also be hidden. Our $1 billion investment includes initiatives to address all forms of homelessness, including programs to increase the supply of social and affordable housing.”

An Anglicare report, released last year, found less than 1% of houses in the Shoalhaven are affordable for people receiving income support. The region’s housing affordability crisis was even worse for young people, with no affordable housing options for those on Youth Allowance or Newstart, even in shared accommodation.

Shoalhaven Homelessness Interagency spokesperson Lesley Labka said young people, single older women and victims of domestic and family violence are the most vulnerable to homelessness, with almost 30,000 homeless young people aged 12-25 across Australia. The first and most common way young people experience homelessness is couch surfing.

“The majority of people who are homeless are not rough sleepers,” said Lesley. “While the Shoalhaven does have people who are rough sleeping in their cars or in tents in the bush, the majority of homeless people in the region are living in unsafe caravan parks, in overcrowded housing where they have to move every couple of days so they don’t overstay their welcome, or in crisis accommodation.”

SYSS provides crisis accommodation and outreach support to almost 200 young people in the Shoalhaven each year who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Of these young people 70% have left home to escape family violence, child abuse or family breakdown, more than 65% have a diagnosed mental health issue and 34% identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

As part of CareSouth’s Homelessness Week campaign 2019, young people in our SYSS program have shared their stories to show how support, intervention and capacity building helped them find a place in their community where they are not excluded, but are contributing to a better society. Read their stories on our website: http://www.caresouth.org.au/blog

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