IT'S the challenge that remains in the shadows in the Central West.
People aren't sleeping on pavements, in parks or outside shops in the major cities of the region, but that does not mean homelessness doesn't exist.
The number of homeless people in the Central West has been growing since 2011 and there is a significant population of young people "couch-surfing" with friends or relatives.
The gap between the demand for and supply of rental properties in cities such as Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo has worsened the situation and finding a house without a previous rental history remains difficult.
Experts say domestic violence in regional areas is also contributing to the homeless population.
The NSW Government has promised to halve the population of rough sleepers by 2025, but is that possible?
Today, the Western Advocate has a closer look at the problem in the Central West.
Growing homeless population in the Central West
THE Central West has seen a rise in its homeless population, but it seems the region is still not on the NSW Government's radar.
Data showed there were 746 homeless people in the region in 2016 - an eight per cent increase on 2011.
So what's the NSW Government plan to halve the number of homeless in the Central West by 2025?
The NSW Government plan for the Central West
A NSW Department of Family and Community Services spokesperson said the state government will provide more than $10 million to the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) program across the region in 2018-19.
"The NSW Government currently invests in over 6800 social housing dwellings through public and community housing providers in the region," the spokesperson said.
It currently funds 14 SHS to support 3861 people and has plans to build more than 300 dwellings in the region over the next 10 years.
Labor too has a plan
Tania Mihailuk, the NSW Shadow Minister for Housing, says the real question is what the NSW Premier has done in the past eight years about the problem.
The number of homeless people in the state grew by more than 33 per cent in the five years alone from 2011 to the census in 2016, Ms Mihailuk said.
"She [Gladys Berejiklian] has enjoyed an unprecedented economic growth. She has collected billions in stamp duty, but her priority was to splurge on city stadiums," Ms Mihailuk said. "She has sold off thousands of social housing properties."
She [Gladys Berejiklian] has enjoyed an unprecedented economic growth. She has collected billions in stamp duty, but her priority was to splurge on city stadiums. She has sold off thousands of social housing propertiesTania Mihailuk
Has Labor formulated any plan to halve the homeless population in the Central West after the March 23 election?
Ms Mihailuk says a Labor government will directly work with Specialist Homelessness Services in the region.
"We will also work with other community-based organisations such as those providing mental health services, helping marginalised families and rehabilitation," she said.
Katherine McKernan, the CEO of Homelessness NSW, says the NSW Government has had a focus on inner city rough sleeping.
"The announcement of targets to end rough sleeping will need to also focus on rough sleeping across NSW, as 30 per cent of people sleeping rough do so in regional and rural NSW," Ms McKernan said.
"To reduce homelessness in regional areas, investment is required in specialist services for domestic and family violence, young people and mental health and drug and alcohol services.
"Currently, 28 per cent of all clients accessing homelessness services are Aboriginal and so we also need to see investment in and support of Aboriginal communities to help prevent Aboriginal homelessness."
What more should be done
CSU lecturer Rohena Duncombe says the problem needs to be attacked from many angles.
"The real cause for homelessness is poverty and inequality," Ms Duncombe said.
The real cause for homelessness is poverty and inequalityRohena Duncombe
"When people grow up poor, especially in intergenerational poverty, they are subjected to a lot of stress which in turn increases the likelihood of a conflictual environment.
"People experiencing stress, poverty and conflict in childhood are more likely to develop psycho-emotional symptoms than people growing up in stable, non-poor households.
"They are less likely to complete their schooling and may try to manage their symptoms and stress through substance use.
"These are dynamics which actually lead to many problems, including homelessness."
Programs to help the vulnerable in Bathurst
With the rising numbers of homeless people in the Central West, various organisations in the Bathurst community are continuing to offer vital support to those who are doing it tough.
Organisations such as Wattle Tree House and the Bathurst branch of the Salvation Army have been championing a series of programs to help resolve the issue of homelessness.
Ange Brown, who has been a team leader at Wattle Tree House for over four years, says that homelessness is an issue that has had impacted more vulnerable members of the Bathurst community.
"With the rising cost of living, it's becoming very hard for people on government assistance to gain employment," Ms Brown said.
"Our goal at Wattle Tree House is to help those at risk of homelessness sustain their accommodation and secure a job."
Ms Brown said the plight of homelessness isn't as identifiable in Bathurst as it is in major Australian cities.
"We see homeless people out and about during the warmer months but during the winter, they tend to couch surf," she said.
Ms Brown feels the key to tacking the issue of homelessness in the long run is through providing more education around vital life skills.
"As early as primary school, children should be receiving lessons on how to manage a budget and make themselves employable," she said.
"At Wattle Tree House, we work with clients to help them gain employment, and we've had some fantastic outcomes from the program."
"Our clients certainly see a difference when they've got an income behind them."
Along with rising costs of living, Ms Brown said domestic violence also plays a significant part in causing homelessness.
"Domestic violence is a serious problem, but thankfully the community is starting to become more aware of the issue through reporting cases to the police," she said.
Wattle Tree House receives a lot of clients from the Bathurst branch of the Salvation Army, who also provide plenty of support for the homeless.
"The Salvation Army supports the Bathurst Uniting Church during the winter in providing a safe venue for homeless men to sleep," Salvation Army Bathurst welfare manager Matt Robinson said.
"We also provide hampers to the homeless and offer them key essentials such as soup and mugs for hot water."
Mr Robinson said the charity endeavours to help the homeless as soon as they arrive at their door.
"We offer the homeless a few nights accommodation before referring them to Wattle Tree House," he said.
Don't have a place to crash? Help is a phone call away in the Central West
- Bathurst Homelessness and Housing Support Service for adults and families, Wattle Tree House: 1800 851 858 / B.W. and C. Refuge: 1800 738 303.
- Bathurst Homelessness and Housing Support Service for young people, Veritas House Inc: 6332 3882 (after hours: 6331 1675, mobile: 0407 188 877).
- Orange Homelessness and Housing Support Service for Adults and Families, Housing Plus: 1800 674 474.
- Orange Homelessness and Housing Support Service for young people, Veritas House Inc: 6361 8088, 0417 657 323 or 6332 6835.
- Dubbo Homelessness and Housing Support Service for adults and families, Orana Support Service Inc: 6882 2100.
- Dubbo Homelessness and Housing Support Service for young people, Uniting Care Burnside NSW/ACT: 6884 5254.
- Mid-Western Homelessness and Housing Support Service, Barnardos Australia: 6361 1544.
- Parkes-Forbes Homelessness and Housing Support Service, The Trustees of The Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes (CentaCare): 6850 1788.
- Cobar Homelessness and Housing Support Service, The Trustees of The Roman Catholic Church for the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes (CentaCare): 6836 2172.
- Western NSW (Central) Homeless Youth Assistance Program (HYAP), Veritas House Inc: 6332 3882.
- Warrumbungle Homelessness and Housing Support Service Mission Australia: 6842 5197 (Coonamble, Coonabarabran) or 6817 8798 (Gilgandra).