Gloucester is no stranger to the need for more social and affordable housing, which is the focus of this year's Country Women's Association (CWA) of NSW's Awareness Week campaign.
Launched on Sunday September 5 and running until September 11, the CWA is putting a call out to the State government to act on the issue as a 'matter of urgency' for regional NSW.
Homelessness is not a new issue for Gloucester, however, the real estate boom, which has occurred as a result of COVID-19, has intensified the matter with the lack of housing forcing even more people into dire situations.
CWA of NSW president Stephanie Stanhope said Awareness Week 2021 is also highlighting the housing pressures on women over 55, who are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia.
"Everybody deserves to have a safe, secure and affordable place to live and we support community housing providers who are pleading for more to be done to help the State's most vulnerable citizens," Ms Stanhope said.
"We must act now if we are to start turning around the massive shortfall that already exists in social housing stocks, and we must start taking seriously the need to make housing in general more affordable for all individuals and families."
To help all the regions across the State facing a similar issue, the CWA of NSW is working with Mission Australia to get an urgent injection of government investment in social and affordable housing.
"With COVID-19 increasingly impacting people outside of Greater Sydney there is an urgent need for the NSW government to invest in more social and affordable housing and there needs to be affordable housing options for different household sizes," Mission Australia's state director (NSW/ACT/VIC), Nada Nasser said.
Although the NSW government has increased its resources to assist those sleeping rough and is offering more flexibility with temporary accommodation as part of its COVID-19 response, some of these services aren't available to Gloucester residents.
A shift in government funding for emergency programs has seen some of the face-to-face support move to larger centres that can be at least an hour's drive away with limited public transport options available.
However, people can contact the Bucketts Way Neighbourhood Group (BWNG) to get access to emergency support as it's an intake and referral point for the Safety Net Program, according to BWNG president, Donna Kemp.
All interactions are dealt with strict confidentiality.
"Our Safety Net Officer saw an increase in approaches from community members during the middle of the year," Ms Kemp said.
Our Safety Net Officer saw an increase in approaches from community members during the middle of the year.Donna Kemp
"Homelessness has many faces, it is not people sleeping rough or sleeping in cars, alone. It is couch-surfing with friends and relatives. Families who have had to move in with parents or grandparents because of the shortfall in housing stock or the increase in rental costs.
"At times these families are splitting and living between households because of size of accommodation. The stressors involved can impact on and exacerbate issues affecting some households, such as drug and alcohol consumption and domestic violence incidents," she said.
According to member for Upper Hunter Dave Layzell, the State government has recognised the problem and has instigated a Regional Housing Taskforce to focus on the issue.
"I believe our towns like Gloucester are one of those areas that is really feeling the impact of a lack of rental properties," Mr Layzell said.
"I have already had a briefing from the taskforce and hope to see progress on coming up with good common sense solutions for encouraging construction of more housing stock in our country towns like Gloucester.
"Of course, these issues are sometimes complex in terms of planning and social licence so it is important that the taskforce works closely with local council to develop plans for future housing stock," Mr Layzell explained.
Mr Layzell is feeling encouraged about progress on the issue with neighbouring MP, member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead recently being appointed as the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Housing.
"The influx of people moving from cities to regional areas is undoubtedly putting more pressure on local housing supply," Mr Bromhead said.
"The Regional Housing Taskforce is focusing on boosting housing supply which will be crucial to supporting the growth of regional NSW, not only for those who move there in the future but for residents who already call towns like Gloucester home."
According to Mr Bromhead, the taskforce will prepare an independent report with recommendations to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes on how the government can utilise the planning system to stimulate housing supply in the regions.