Having spent the past several weeks residing in his car throughout the Illawarra, Colin Coulstock lives a life whereby “you’re always on edge”.
“You have to choose safe places to sleep, because there’s a lot of crazies running around. You have to pick a place that isn’t going to draw attention or is illegal.
“You just don’t settle like you do when you have a place. You never switch off, you can’t relax.
“You don’t know who’s going to come tapping on your window, or if something happens to the car you’re buggered and back out on the street.”
The 58-year-old was born and bred in the Illawarra, and has been homeless since last February.
Mr Coulstock was formerly a carer for his parents, but lost his pension after the death of his stepfather.
“Within the same week my mother had a massive stroke… And she was put into a home,” he said.
“My stepfather had rented the house we were living in for many, many years. I had four weeks to get out, because I wasn’t on the lease. So I started living in my car.
“When I first became homeless I had a car, but it was just too expensive to re-register. So I got rid of it and was just sleeping on the street in Wollongong.”
After about six months sleeping rough, the Wollongong Homeless Hub, where Mr Coulstock is a client, presented him with his current car, which had been donated.
According to new data from the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, NSW recorded the most severe jump in homelessness of any state or territory between the 2016 and 2011 censuses.
The number of people who are homeless in NSW has soared by more than one-third.
According to the 2016 Census, the total number of homeless people in the respective LGAs were 816 in Wollongong, 180 in Shellharbour and 20 in Kiama.
The 2011 Census listed 974 people as homeless in the Illawarra.
Mr Coulstock is now on the Newstart Allowance.
He said finding work was problematic, due to past issues with drug addiction, “a very lengthy criminal record from when I was younger” and his age.
“You just can’t afford a place on $500 a fortnight,” he said. “I’ve got other debts as well, so I pay them and there’s not enough left to pay rent.
“And if there is, I make a choice. I could have a roof over my head, sit under it and starve, or I can live rough and at least eat.”
Meanwhile, the Homeless Hub has estimated that on any given night there are about 1500 people homeless in the Illawarra.
“I think the Census is always going to be an estimate, because we’re dealing with a population that’s quite transient,” manager Mandy Booker said.
The Housing Trust CEO calls for action
A leading community housing provider has called for the creation of 5000 homes within the next decade to meet the shortfall in social and affordable housing in the Illawarra.
Meanwhile, a representative from Homelessness NSW says there are ominous signs for the Illawarra if action isn’t taken.
On Friday, Housing Trust CEO Michele Adair urged Wollongong councillors who pledged their support in tackling the Illawarra’s affordable housing problem during election campaigning in 2017 to create a solid plan of action.
Ms Adair made this request during a speech at the Homelessness NSW conference at the Novotel Wollongong Northbeach.
Ms Adair proposed a target of creating 5000 homes within the next decade in order to meet the shortfall in social and affordable housing throughout the region.
Ms Adair said there were currently 3500 people on the waiting list for social housing in the Wollongong and Shellharbour areas – with an average waiting time of ten years – and estimated at least a thousand more were in desperate need of affordable housing.
Ms Adair said a viable plan needed to be created in which the Housing Trust can partner with council and the property industry to increase social and affordable housing in a co-ordinated, collaborative and timely manner.
Digby Hughes from Homelessness NSW said areas where homelessness “really increased horrendously are south-west and western Sydney”.
“The Illawarra, being on the cusp of Sydney, it could be the next area to explode though for homelessness. What we need to have is a major government investment in affordable housing.
“We need more public housing dwellings built.”