City tackles homelessness

By James Bennett

Shepparton has the highest number of homeless people in regional Victoria and has not always been on the receiving end of Victorian Government funding.

According to the Council for Homeless People, there were about 370 people who identify as homeless ranging from living in ‘‘severely’’ crowded dwellings, boarding house, couch surfing, crisis accommodation and sleeping rough.

The second-worst state electorate is Geelong with 291.

Last year Greater Shepparton City Council applied for $165000 from the government to help address homelessness in Shepparton.

The Daniel Andrews government also announced it would spend $209million to build 1000 additional public housing properties.

Shepparton missed out on each occasion.

Mayor Kim O’Keeffe said the government provided $50000 for the voluntary affordable housing agreement grant program earlier in the year.

‘‘It was to enable council to develop an affordable housing policy to support council negotiations with developers to include social, and affordable housing in housing developments,’’ she said.

Luckily Shepparton did receive an important $5.5million boost for Wintringham Housing.

The money will help provide 30 new community housing properties on Wyndham St for the elderly, helping to free up houses for families in need.

Cr O’Keeffe said with the highest numbers outside of Melbourne, Shepparton should always receive community housing and homelessness grants.

‘‘The $165000 grant would give us a chance to do work on what type of housing we need and can also look at how we can enhance that type of money,’’ she said.

‘‘The grant application was to fund the preparation of a Greater Shepparton Unaffordable Housing policy and strategy task with approving a practical plan to help.

‘‘We were surprised we didn’t receive the money because we obviously put our statistics forward as one of the highest in need.

‘‘When other places with not as high numbers of homeless were funded, we were very disappointed in that we thought we had a good enough reason to attract funding.

‘‘We’ve written letters to the government expressing our concern that we have been overlooked.

‘‘The government told us we already had the $50000 and nothing to line up with the need, but for me it’s a critical need; this is something that is affecting people’s lives.’’

Cr O’Keeffe did not rule out supplying emergency funding and said the council was continuing to find new funding pathways.

She said she had written to Housing Minister Richard Wynne, requesting a meeting to discuss the critical concerns.

Next week Cr O’Keeffe, Foodshare’s Bec Nicoll, popular identity Azem Elmaz and Salvation Army’s Graeme Parish are hosting a fundraising event at the Sherbourne Terrace.

It will highlight the services available in Shepparton and the people making a positive and behind-the-scenes difference.

‘‘We have a broad range of organisations in Shepparton. That is why we’re doing this event to help tap into seeing what is there in town because there are even things council isn’t aware is happening,’’ Cr O’Keefe said.

‘‘I think there is certainly enough organisations coming together to move forward if it has to be bigger and broader.

‘‘What are we lacking and what do we need? These are the questions we’re working our way through.

‘‘This is why we brought on people like Bec Nicolls from Foodshare because she has an on-the-ground feel for it all.’’

Tickets cost $50 for a noon start. Anyone who wishes to secure a ticket to this important event can phone Cr O’Keeffe on 0447713838.