A homeless woman who has been living in a picnic hut in Wollongong’s Lang Park for the past few months laments that she has “nowhere else to go”.
When the Mercury visited on Monday, the area in and around the hut was littered with tents, blankets, clothing, shopping trolleys, a fire-pit and food.
The woman, Wendy Lawrence, feels society has turned its back on her.
However, nearby resident Michelle MacDonald feels this living situation has created potential safety risks.
“I feel very sorry for this person that they do not have a home, however I do not think this is a solution,” she said.
“They have dogs that bark continually. They do not clean up after the dogs, have a fire each night – sometimes inside the hut (where) they have put up what appears to be old tent sides (that are) plastic.
“It’s a huge safety risk… With that plastic and those fires, it could go up in flames.”
Ms Lawrence made headlines last year when her small dog Lou-Lou repeatedly was picked up by Wollongong City Council rangers for not wearing a lead.
Ms Lawrence was living in the sand-dunes at Wollongong Beach at the time. She had been homeless for more than five years.
Ms Lawrence said she had been living alone at Lang Park for a few months with her two dogs. The 57-year-old said she had been robbed several times.
Ms MacDonald said that the park was a popular picnicking spot for families during spring and summer.
“Nobody is currently able to use it (the hut), not to mention it is directly near a very utilised kids’ playground,” the resident said.
“If council do not put a stop to this immediately (Lang Park and Stuart Park) will both be over taken by the homeless and simply become a tent city, with all that comes with that.”
Ms MacDonald also suggested that more people may have been staying in the hut.
A Wollongong City Council spokesperson said council has been working with the Wollongong Homeless Hub to “provide support and alternative accommodation for the person using one of Lang Park’s shelters as a sleeping space”.
“The person is known to council staff and they have to date declined any offers of assistance,” the spokesperson said.
“We will continue to try to work with them and the Wollongong Homeless Hub to find an alternative space.”
Wendy’s perception is her reality
There’s no quick fix for the social problem of homelessness.
It’s one of those uncomfortable issues that unless those affected are staring you in the face, or living on your street corner, then they are fairly easy to ignore.
It’s often late at night when families with homes are tucked away in bed, that the people who live on the streets come out.
That’s when they can pull out their makeshift beds and set up camp in public places and go largely undisturbed.
Residents who alerted council to a homeless woman living in a picnic hut in Wollongong’s Lang Park are certainly concerned for her safety.
They feel sorry for her, like we all do.
But they fear leaving her to take shelter in the hut alongside a children’s playground is not the answer.
A Wollongong City Council spokeswoman said staff had been working with the Wollongong Homeless Hub to provide support and alternative accommodation for the woman.
She’s apparently known to Council staff and to date, has declined any offers of assistance.
”Homelessness is a complex issue and we have a number of people in our community who sleep in public spaces such as in our parks and at our beaches,” the spokeswoman said.
“We do, from time to time, receive feedback from community members who raise concerns about homeless people in our city.
“We believe it’s important to provide support to these people in a compassionate and caring way.”
While the council, the Homeless Hub and other organisations are working to find ways to the woman and countless other homeless people, the street is the only place they feel comfortable calling home.
Wendy Lawrence, the woman in the picnic hut, feels society has turned its back on her.
That may not be the reality, but that’s her perception.
And in a world of clutter that includes shopping trolleys, a fire pit, blankets and scattered food, it’s not hard to see why her perception is her reality.