By Derek Schlennstedt
The Holy Fools in Lilydale has called upon Yarra Ranges Council to help support and create a drop-in centre for homeless people and those at risk.
Neal Taylor, CEO of Holy Fools, said he had exhausted all avenues in trying to ascertain a location that could be used as a day refuge.
Despite approaching various advertised private locations that were suitable Mr Taylor said affordability of premises and negative stigma attached to homelessness made it difficult to find sites to lease.
With homelessness becoming more prevalent in outer suburban areas such as Lilydale, Mr Taylor has called on the council to intervene.
“We need a space that people can go to that accepts them for who they are… a welcoming place where they can wash their clothes, have a shower, store items, sit and talk to others,” he said.
He noted that similar properties and venues were offered to charities and groups elsewhere in the shire and that even a large shed with shower and washing machine would be a start.
“We’ve looked around for the last few years for rental properties and there are very little quality and affordable rental properties available for what we are proposing that aren’t houses or not in the commercial areas.
“The council has lots of properties that other community groups are accessing so we are asking if they have got something here we can access or perhaps provide a smaller space,” he said.
Holy Fools is based in Lilydale and focuses on providing support for people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness or are living in poverty in the Lilydale and Yarra Valley area.
Mr Taylor has been active in the areas of welfare and homelessness in the Yarra Ranges for more than 10 years and said that the number of homeless people seeking assistance in the areas is the highest it’s ever been.
“More and more people are turning up here from the city,” he said.
“It doesn’t happen immediately but they slowly migrate further and further out as time goes on because of the issues they face in the city.”
While he thanks Yarra Ranges Council for the assistance and support it has shown, he said that more needs to be done.
“Council has been really good to us, they love what we do and we appreciate everything they’ve done for us but it’s getting to the point where something needs to be done and we’ve pushed as far as we can with commercial and private properties.”
Director of Social and Economic Development Ali Wastie said the council agreed that homelessness was an increasing problem and that it was lobbying the State Government for more funding.
“There are currently no crisis accommodation providers in Yarra Ranges and housing and support services have limited options for emergency housing and often need to relocate people to the city for support, or provide swags for people sleeping rough as a last resort,” she said.
“We have been advocating to the State Government to increase the funding of homelessness services.
“Their recent funding announcement to prioritise housing for vulnerable people sleeping rough in inner Melbourne is a welcome start.
“However there are unique challenges and gaps in outlying areas such as the Yarra Ranges that also requires system and funding response.
“We support the work of agencies in the outer east which support vulnerable people in our community and will continue our advocacy in this space.”