THE tragic death of a baby girl found washed up on a beach has highlighted a shocking crisis of homelessness on the Gold Coast.
Fr Peter Dillon, parish priest at Surfers Paradise, where the baby girl was found in the early hours of November 19, said behind the Coast’s “glitter” strip was a grim reality for too many people sleeping rough or in boarding houses, coupled with a culture of drugs, and domestic violence.
“Many tourists don’t get to see it,” Fr Dillon said.
“I think it is invisible unless you go to a particular place in the evening where they might be gathering for a free meal.”
Anglican Reverend Jon Brook, of the St John’s Church crisis care centre in Surfers Paradise, said church and community service organisations were the main providers for the growing ranks of homeless and were “stretched to the max”.
“It’s a tragic state. The main problem is there’s very little affordable accommodation. Enough is enough,” he said, adding that waiting time for a housing commission home could be up to 10 years.
“A typical scenario would be spouse is made redundant, can’t find work and can’t provide for the family.
“There are mounting bills, turns to alcohol, problems at home, violence – someone ends up out on the street – either the perpetrator or the victims.
“You’ve got people who have significant mental health issues and then there is the addiction problem.”
The homeless man, 48, accused of murdering his nine-month-old baby was remanded in custody after an initial court hearing on November 22. His partner, the mother of the baby, was known to have lived in makeshift camps and parks between Tweed Heads and the Gold Coast.
The mother has been released from custody and placed in the mental health system in Queensland. The toddler has been placed in care.
Rev Brook confirmed that the parents of the dead baby were well known to many regulars at the St John’s Centre.
They came to St John’s occasionally for food and other assistance.
“She (the mother) was desperate for housing. But the situation on the coast is dire. Affordable housing is pretty much prohibitive,” he said.
“We are seeing a growing underclass of dysfunction.
“I could take you to six squats in Surfers Paradise, at least, but because people are so busy, they don’t see the problem.
“There are boarding houses, but they are atrocious places.
“We have homeless people who rather sleep out under the stars.”
The St John’s centre – adjacent to St Vincent’s Catholic Church and often using its car park – serves more than 100 people five days a week.
Demand for services has grown 100 per cent in the past four years.
St John’s provides hot meals, access to showers, emergency relief for food, clothing and other basics – even a dental service.
The Orange Sky Laundry van visits twice a week.
The centre works closely with Catholic charity Rosies, and uses the adjacent St Vincent’s Church car park to keep operations running.
“There are a complex combination of needs,” Rev Brook said.
“We have people presenting here for help who don’t have the faintest idea how to do a thing.
“All they know is where to get drugs, where to get a drink, how to spend what little money they’ve got, let alone looking after a child.
“We need more crisis accommodation. We need more drug and alcohol detox and rehabilitation services … and more resources for child safety.
“We’re seeing the result of generational neglect and abuse … we’ve got second and third-generation homelessness out there – parents and children who are homeless.”