Rough sleeping on the rise in Coffs Harbour

THE number of people ‘sleeping rough’ is on the rise in Coffs Harbour, according to 2024 NSW Street Count figures.

The 2024 Street Count identified 147 people sleeping rough in the Coffs Harbour local government area (LGA) on the night of February 21, compared to 82 in 2023, an increase of almost 80 percent.

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Of the 75 LGAs counted, Coffs Harbour had the largest total increase in the number of people sleeping rough compared to 2023 data.

In 2020, the inaugural Street Count, 51 people were counted in Coffs Harbour.

The 2024 NSW Street Count, the NSW Government’s fifth annual rough sleeping street count, was completed statewide between 1 February and 1 March 2024.

Across the state, the number of people sleeping rough has continued to rise with regional areas experiencing the biggest surge in homelessness in the past year, while metro Sydney has stabilised.

Throughout NSW, 2,037 people were counted sleeping rough during the Street Count, a 26 percent (414 person) increase compared to 2023.

Approximately 64 percent of those counted were in vehicles and eighteen percent in open spaces.

Another ten percent were in makeshift dwellings and eight percent were in public roofed spaces.

Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh has expressed concern over the rapid rise in homelessness locally, calling for immediate action from the State Government.

“Despite this exponential growth the only action the Minister for Homelessness and Mental Health has taken is to cancel a social and affordable housing project – Argyll Estate,” Mr Singh said.

“As winter approaches, the Minns Labor Government has turned its back on the growing homelessness crisis, leaving some of our community’s most vulnerable members out in the cold.

“I am urging the Minns Labor Government to take real action and provide critical funding to our already stretched homelessness support services to help get people off the streets.”

In response, Minister for Homelessness Rose Jackson said the Street Count revealed the “stark reality” of homelessness on the Coffs Coast.

“The Coffs Harbour region experienced the most significant surge in the number of individuals found sleeping rough within a single local government area (LGA) statewide during this year’s count.”

Ms Jackson said the NSW Government is “looking at every single option” to tackle the state’s housing and rental crisis.

“This includes our wide-ranging review of Short Term Rental Accommodation rules which we are in the process of finalising very soon,” she said.

“We know the current Short Term Rental Accommodation rules are having an impact on homelessness and street sleeping, especially in our regions, which is why we are acting.”

Ms Jackson said work to stabilise the system includes mandating an immediate freeze on the sales of public housing and extending temporary accommodation to ensure vulnerable people are able to access support when they need it most.

Other measures include extending Specialist Homelessness Services contracts and deploying more assertive outreach services to engage people sleeping rough and support them into long term, stable accommodation.

The Minister said planning reforms have been implemented to expedite the delivery of more housing across the state, with the government investigating innovative solutions to deliver more homes, and $10 million allocated to a modular housing trial to deliver faster quality social housing.

In reference to the Argyll Street estate, Ms Jackson said, “Our next step is meeting directly with residents at Argyll Estate in June, both private owners and social housing tenants, to hear directly from that community on what they want us to start, stop and continue when it comes to not only redevelopment but also services.”

She said these conversations, along with analysis of data and consultation with stakeholders, will help inform and guide plans across the Coffs Harbour LGA, not just Argyll Estate.

Ms Jackson said previous plans for the Estate would have only delivered an additional nine social homes.

Elsewhere in the region, 22 people were counted sleeping rough in Bellingen during the 2024 Street Count, down one from 23 in 2023.

Further north, in the Clarence Valley, 58 people were counted in 2024, down by eleven from 69 in 2023.

By Andrew VIVIAN

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