FOR Moama Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive John Kerr, Echuca-Moama’s homelessness crisis is, tragically, not a new story.
And after months witnessing both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families and individuals struggle to put a roof over their heads, he’s had enough.
“The bottom line for us is to get a conversation started,” he said.
“We want to try to get something going, emergency accommodation, whatever it can be, just to get them off the streets.
“We need to bring this to the forefront, to go into crisis mode. This is on our doorstep and we need to deal with it as a community.”
Not only is this crisis not new — John believes the number of homeless locals is on the rise.
“It's always been in the background. It's always been there. And it’s only going up,” he said.
While Moama LALC has done what it can to help, John admitted resources were limited.
“Our hands are certainly tied. We're not like other big organisations, we don't have loads of money,” he said.
“We only own four houses in Moama and they're all tenanted up. All we are now is a referral service.”
This dearth of houses is a pattern across the twin towns.
“Private rent here is through the roof, it's just ridiculous,” John said.
“And even social housing out west is very hard to come by because even if people do leave, they sign it over to one of their family members and it's passed down.”
John believes a failure in the system has left so many families sleeping rough.
“The sooner we pull together as organisations and help these people get housed, the better,” he said.
“It's sad when you see people’s kids have to go down and live in the bush as well.
“There's no power, no basic amenities, you have to go to the toilet behind a tree and not shower for weeks on end.”
John was concerned housing services turned away struggling families who had “messed up” while in public housing in the past.
“We all make mistakes, but how many times do you forgive your neighbour? A thousand times a thousand, it never stops,” he said.
“People deserve second chances. And third and fourth and fifth chances.
“The bottom line is you don't give up on people – it's just basic humanity.”
HOMELESSNESS: OUR FORGOTTEN FAMILIES
Read more of Tony and Melissa's heartbreaking story of homelessness here.
Read more from our politicians here.
Read more from local homelessness services here.
Read an opinion piece from Riverine Herald writer Charmayne Allison here.