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Homeless crisis shakes leaders

Cold station: Nat Spary and Jon Martlew chose to sleep at a local Toowoomba train station in -4.3 degree cold during their “homeless” week.

Cold station: Nat Spary and Jon Martlew chose to sleep at a local Toowoomba train station in -4.3 degree cold during their “homeless” week.

JON Martlew never thought he’d have to choose between an alleyway, a train station or a creek bridge for a night’s sleep.

While his four children and wife stayed warm inside their Toowoomba home, Mr Martlew took to the streets last week to live like the nation’s 105, 237 homeless.

“I wanted to immerse myself totally and raise awareness of homelessness in Australia,” Mr Martlew said.

He and friend Nat Spary, who runs a local church soup kitchen, spent an entire week on just one meal a day, slept rough in public places, and sat for hours in local parks and shopping centres “as everyone walked around me”.

“I spent two and a half hours in the shops and one lady made eye contact with me, but quickly looked away,” Mr Martlew said.

“The only person who said hello was a man who I could see was clearly disabled, an older man.

“That was a touching moment for me.”

The Rosies Toowoomba branch co-ordinator said he could never truly understand his patrons unless he experienced their life, choosing National Homelessness Prevention Week (August 3 – 9) to leave his comforts behind.

The national campaign by Homelessness Australia asked communities to “step up” to end homelessness, a theme Mr Martlew tackled literally.

During his first night’s sleep in a trendy alleyway, Mr Martlew and Mr Spary noticed a homeless man who had “drunk himself into a stupor”.

“I had a food pack from a Homelessness Prevention Week event and a swag, and when I asked if he was hungry, he said, ‘yes’,” Mr Martlew said.

“I handed him a mandarin, a muesli bar and a popper, which was all I had in the food pack, and he ate it all.”

Mr Martlew spent his second night on a train station platform, waking up to a chilling -4.3 degree morning.

One of the Rosies patrons was “so concerned” for the Toowoomba dad’s safety and health he offered Mr Martlew a scarf.

“He is literally living like this, on the streets, and he was worried about me,” he said.

But at the week’s end, Mr Martlew knew he would be back with his family, something short of a dream for thousands of Australia’s without anywhere to call home.

Australia’s 2011 census listed Queensland as having the third highest homeless population in Australia at 19, 838 people.

More than half of this population are under 34, and a further 27 per cent are under 18.

Grassroots ministry co-ordinator Roby Curtis said between 14 and 40 of the West End’s homeless community come through his Blind Eye Ministries drop in centre daily.

Mr Curtis opened the centre as a base for local organisation that offers toothbrushes and soap to the city’s homeless during Homelessness Prevention Week.

Locals came through the centre donating care packs, including Housing Minister Leeanne Enoch.

“The minister said she was very appreciative of the work we do,” Mr Curtis said.

Despite the high numbers of homeless who have walked through the West End-based drop in centre for showers, food and even prayer, Mr Curtis said the centre was in danger of closing.

“Funding is the biggest struggle for us, as we don’t rely on government funding because we want to be at that grassroots level,” Mr Curtis said.

“We don’t want to see things change but we need to raise funders to see us through to the next quarter.”

Mr Curtis said the centre, which relies solely on volunteers, needed at least $30,000 to cover basic rent and administration costs.

“We fully rely on the Lord providing funds for us,” he said.

Funding to national homelessness and housing peak bodies and other support groups became real when the Federal Government ended their support on June 30.

On March 24, the government proposed a two-year funding agreement for states and territories between 2015 and 2017.

Ms Enoch confirmed the Queensland state budget had set aside $183.6 million to “expand and improve government-owned social housing” and fund addition support services.

“The housing needs of Queensland’s most vulnerable — including families escaping domestic violence, Indigenous Queenslanders, and people with a disability — was a key focus of the Palaszczuk Government’s first budget,” Ms Enoch said.

By next year, the state government hoped to start building 274 houses and complete 258 more.

Ms Enoch said Queensland’s indigenous would also receive “a boost from this budget” with $129 million allocated for social housing capital works projects.

While St Vincent de Paul Society’s national chief executive Dr John Falzon is pushing for Queensland and other states and territories to commit to the new funding agreement, he still called on the federal government “to tackle this issue”.

“The members of the St Vincent de Paul Society believe housing is a human right and we have called on the federal government to commit to a long term national plan to tackle this issue,” Dr Falzon said.

“We have been disappointed with recent funding cuts to homelessness and related social services and the funding uncertainty around the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH).

“The federal government needs to take leadership in this area and not walk away from housing and homelessness as issues of national importance.

“In a country as wealthy and prosperous as Australia no one should be denied a place to call home.”

Homelessness Australia chief executive officer Glenda Stevens said it was “heartening” to see the community “step up to end homelessness, when it appears the Federal Government is stepping down.”


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