THE city's homelessness crisis is growing, with the volunteer-run Bathurst Uniting Support Services (BUSS) seeing an increasing demand for help as the weather grows colder.
BUSS started its life in 2018 as an overnight emergency accommodation provider, but has since transitioned into a much larger service, instigating numerous programs for disadvantaged people in the community.
The short-term accommodation element was scrapped during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been unable to resume for several reasons.
However, people experiencing homelessness are still reaching out to the BUSS volunteers for support, particularly now that the colder months have hit.
BUSS coordinator Julie Fry said the demand for tents has increased in recent weeks, with people needing them to have some sort of shelter from the elements.
"We are absolutely seeing an increase in the number of people who are approaching us for accommodation, which of course we can no longer offer," she said.
"The best we can do is offer a tent and warm sleeping bag and a big jacket, but we can't offer anything else. That is heartbreaking when the snows are coming."
While there is an arrangement for some people to pitch their tents on private property, others have to set themselves up under bridges or in other locations where they feel they are out of sight and safe from any danger.
The growing requests for assistance point to a much larger problem in Bathurst: a lack of affordable and short term accommodation.
"We're just getting more and more people approach us going, 'Have you got accommodation?'. We desperately still need in Bathurst very short-term, overnight accommodation for people who don't have anywhere else to go - and the numbers are growing," Ms Fry said.
She said the reasons behind people winding up on the streets at the moment are varied.
"Some of it is there's hardly any low-cost accommodation left in Bathurst for people to get," she said.
"Some people, if they have mental health issues, don't go well in shared housing and so if you can't get private rental or Housing Commission housing - I don't even know what the wait is on Housing Commission housing at the moment - your only other option is a room in a shared house, which doesn't suit everyone, and they end up on the streets then.
"And we continue to see people with drug and alcohol issues who have burnt their bridges with housing and then come to us going, 'Can you give us a bed for the night?', which we can't do."
A problem like this requires a wide-ranging community response to solve it.
"I think it's really important that community organisations and the local council get together and think about some of these issues," Ms Fry said.
"We need to really sort out some of this stuff and get something happening in Bathurst, because it's just too cold and now we have, this week, people in tents in the snow."
In the meantime, BUSS is continuing to support people experiencing homelessness by giving them items to keep them warm and opportunities for food and a hot shower.
People can support the work of BUSS through donations or volunteering.
For more information, visit the BUSS Facebook page.
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