Our invisible homeless

Geoff, who spent 16 months homeless, returned to the Barossa Community Kitchen recently to share a meal with the people who helped him survive through some of his lowest moments.

Geoff looks like an average sixty-year-old; slightly portly, smiling eyes, bewhiskered chin. A typical retiree, enjoying the quiet Barossa life.

But not that long ago, Geoff was homeless.

He lost his job, and was evicted from his house in Alberton.

“I moved as many belongings as I could into my tent and into my car,” Geoff said.

“The rest I had to leave on the footpath.”

Having no family support or friends that he felt he could call on, Geoff drifted north to Gawler and the Barossa.

He spent ten weeks at a camp ground in Greenock, before being asked to move on.

“I was told, you can’t be homeless here,” said Geoff.

His next stop was Mallala, where he stayed twelve weeks before the camp ground was shut down due to a mouse plague. 

“The mice got into the tent and everything,” Geoff said.

“It ended up they’d nested in my clothes… they ran across my bed at night.

“Once that closed down, I had to throw my tent away because it was riddled with holes.

“I started sleeping in my car.”

He frequented parking bays on the Sturt Highway, Accommodation Hill, and the Lions Park in Tanunda. 

Even now, he keeps a look out for potential overnight rest stops.

After sixteen months without a home, it’s automatic.

Geoff’s experience isn’t unique. 

While it’s easy to think that homelessness is a problem isolated to cities, those working at the coal face of the issue here in the Barossa say otherwise.

“When you look at the numbers, you could say it’s not high compared to Adelaide or Melbourne… but to me, anyone who’s homeless is a problem,” said Mr James Doecke of Lutheran Community Care (LCC), where twelve percent of all people who came to them for help this financial year were homeless.

Ms Nicole Carlaw of Centacare, who works with people aged 15 to 25, identified that 48 percent of the young people Centacare supported in the area between July, 2018 and March, 2019 were homeless on intake.

Not all of the people presenting as homeless are sleeping rough like Geoff had to, which is one reason why the community may not realise the extent of the problem here.

People that are homeless are often couch surfing, or in some way without stable long-term accommodation.

They also don’t fit a stereotype.

“It’s not low economic, it’s all walks of life that we see,” said Nicole. 

“Some are families that are well established and well known in the community, and others that may have ended up floating up here.”

Centacare’s Outer North Youth Homelessness Service, Executive Manager, Ms Megan Welsh, agrees. 

“I think when you’ve got a comfortable life and you’re in a bit of a bubble, you don’t realise that you could be only a few bad circumstances away from homelessness,” said Megan.

“You think it’s the person on the street that you can’t identify with, but it’s the person who’s lost their job, and then they lose their relationship; it just spirals. And it could be any one of us.”

See the July 3 print edition of The Leader for the full report.

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