A new space in Fairy Meadow where people experiencing homelessness, or those at risk of doing so, can find help has opened just as new figures reveal how many more people are in need of assistance.
Wollongong Homeless Hub and Housing Services (WHHS) opened its new centre in Fairy Meadow on Monday, February 12.
The hub offers housing support officers, a Services Australia worker to help with Centrelink and Medicare, food, access to computers and phones, referrals to legal and health services, energy assistance vouchers, secondhand clothing, a washing machine, and a bathroom with shower.
It has come after a 12-month search and replaces the former Keira Street hub in Wollongong's CBD.
Support service manager Megan Arthur said the centre meant WHHS could offer more than it did in Keira Street, including the laundry and bathroom facilities, and breakfast throughout the morning during the week.
"We're really enjoying it," Mrs Arthur said.
She said clients who had come in on the first day had also commented that it seemed like a calm space.
Chief executive officer Mandy Booker said a drop-in hub space was something that WHHS had done for nine years, but the service needed to find a location that would service the broader community beyond the CBD.
The new location at 40 Princes Highway, on the corner of Smith Street, is easily accessible by public transport, especially buses.
WHHS still has its outreach van, as well as temporary accommodation, transitional accommodation, social housing, and its administration office in Unanderra, which is where all donations should be dropped off.
'Demand is outstripping what services can provide'
The new hub's opening came a day before the release of a report from Homelessness NSW that shows the number of people seeking help from specialist homelessness services in the Illawarra continues to rise.
The peak body analysed data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to find that the number of people who sought help in the Wollongong local government area grew from 2299 in 2021-22 to 2438 in 2022-23 - an increase of 6 per cent.
In the sheer number of extra people seeking help, this put Wollongong among the five hardest-hit areas in the state.
The city recorded a 10 per cent increase from 2014-15.
Meanwhile the number of people in Kiama needing support has more than doubled in nine years, from 22 to 49, and increased by 58 per cent in one year.
Shellharbour saw demand grow by 1 per cent over the previous financial year, but by 50 per cent since 2014-15.
Meanwhile, Ms Booker said WHHS' government funding as a specialist homelessness service had not changed in nine years, while its costs including wages and rents had only continued to rise.
"The demand is outstripping what homelessness services can provide," she said.
Ms Booker said it meant people were being asked to go to crisis accommodation out of area - away from their support networks - because there was nowhere for them to stay locally.
Mrs Arthur said there was a large proportion of people in need of a new home after relationship breakdowns or domestic violence, and a rise in the number of families losing their homes due to no-fault evictions.
"The rents are just too high for them to get back into the market," she said.
Ms Booker said services needed more funding, something that Homelessness NSW CEO Dom Rowe also called for.
She said one in every two people who sought help for homelessness in NSW did not receive it because services were at capacity.
"NSW must increase funding for specialist homelessness services, as Queensland has just done with a 20 per cent boost," Ms Rowe said.
"We must also urgently build more social and affordable homes."