The number of people sleeping rough in the Bendigo area has more than doubled within the past two years, despite the overall number of people seeking help for homelessness remaining relatively steady, a lead housing service’s data suggests.
Between May 2017 and May 2018, Haven; Home, Safe saw 1439 clients seeking short-term or emergency accommodation.
This was an increase of 16 on the previous year, but the number of those clients who were sleeping rough grew from 171 in 2016-17, to 394 this past year.
Earlier this week, the organisation had more than 23 people who were sleeping rough come seeking help on one night.
Rachel Gellatly, acting executive director of operations (north), said the increase was most likely due to a lack of crisis accommodation and social housing in the area, with some caravan parks and housing providers closing in the past 18 months.
“There are just not enough options for crisis housing,” she said.
Sleeping in open spaces and in public can expose people to certain hazards.
Ms Gellatly said sleeping rough could present risks to personal safety, as well as lead to a decline in physical and mental health.
Sleeping rough reduced a person’s access to certain amenities, she said, particularly cooking facilities that allowed them to prepare healthy meals.
“This is a really vulnerable group of people we’re talking about,” Ms Gellatly said.
Read more: Homelessness more complex than statistics
This winter the Department of Health and Human Services has already activated its extreme weather response to people sleeping rough.
The response sees agencies alerted when the temperature and weather conditions fall to a point where it will affect the health and wellbeing of rough sleepers.
Ms Gellatly said this response gave Haven, Home; Safe funding specifically to help people in extreme weather conditions, cold or hot, and the ability to use this more creatively to secure accommodation.
But more crisis accommodation options were needed, she said, and while government had a role to play, there were also options to partner with the private sector.