ROUGH TIMES: Defining homelessness in modern Australia is no longer easy but the numbers say plenty still do it tough.
ROUGH TIMES: Defining homelessness in modern Australia is no longer easy but the numbers say plenty still do it tough. Craig Warhurst

Homeless may no longer conform to stereotypes

OFTEN hidden in plain sight but more and more these days out of public view, the plight of the homeless in Australian society never seems to go away.

The statistics tell just one part of the story and according to the 2016 Census, these are the estimates for local government areas within the Cowper electorate.

Coffs Harbour 323, Bellingen 54, Kempsey 139, Nambucca 67 and Port Macquarie-Hastings 280.

The traditional image of a homeless person is somebody sleeping rough on a park bench with a wine bottle for a pillow and a newspaper as a blanket.

Experts say that image is well out-of-date and while park dwellers and those who emerge from the scrub along Jetty and Park Beaches as the sun rises each morning may resemble the standard definition, the net spreads wide.

There's a blur between who is homeless and who is doing it tough and down on their luck making it difficult to tell the difference.

A person is also homeless if they do not have suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement is in a dwelling that is inadequate or has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable, or does not allow them to have control of and access to space for social relations.

In short, couch surfers or those without the means due to financial or medical or many, many other reasons to have the ability to put a roof over their heads.

Coffs Harbour's 2017 Citizen Of The Year, Phil Crofts, makes no distinction between somebody who is homeless or just looking for a friend, when he and fellow volunteers put a feed on the table for a guest at the Uniting Church Soup Kitchen.

"On average we feed 55 diners each day and other providers in town have varying numbers as well,' he said.

"I can't say how many are actually homeless but if statistics say 50 people in every 10,000 are in that situation and the city part of Coffs has a population upwards of 35,000 ... see if you can work it out.

"Our job is merely to answer a need without asking questions.”

Looking back through Coffs Coast Advocate archives, the pattern does ask questions and finds few answers.

In 2011, journalist Gemima Harvey covered the subject and after asking numerous people who work in that territory there was an opinion the actuality may be as much as double the figures approaching 300 homeless in Coffs Harbour.

That was echoed two years later when the number seen and unseen was put as high as 600.

Just last year, our writer Jasmine Minhas visited Phil and the other 50 volunteers at the Soup Kitchen on Holy Thursday to write a story as the last of 73 diners were just finishing up an early Easter meal.

"All we ask of everyone is simply to treat each other with respect,” Phil told Jasmine.

Some folks may not have everything the rest of us have.

But we all deserve our dignity.