Rising costs creates new hardship

IF you are having a struggle scraping together the mortgage payment every month, spare a thought for Steve and Dave* (not his real name).

Both men say they are lucky to have a roof over their heads at the moment, but both fear being left homeless by changes they have no control over.

To avoid eviction, Steve has been struggling to pay back a month of rental arrears. More than half his single pension already goes on rent and he has faced repeated increases in his periodic payments for power, with more to come.

The new debt accumulated when his advice to Centrelink of a $10-a- week-rent increase, which needed to be added to his direct debit, somehow did not make it on to the computer system.

The building Steve lives in is for sale and he fears the new owners might decide on different uses for the building, leaving him on the street.

He is 62 with injuries that leave him unable to work and he says his pension will not stretch to the kind of rental prices he knows others are paying for less dilapidated dwellings.

“It’s a battle,” he said.

“There’s never enough.”

Steve he has put his name down with the Department of Housing at least three times, but twice he has been told they have lost his file and now he says they have told him he has to start at the bottom of the list.

Dave* is living in holiday accommodation with his rent subsidised by Housing NSW, waiting for permanent housing. He has been on the streets and does not want to go back. Younger and fitter than Steve, but also currently unable to work, he says he has survived by couch surfing and by staying out of the centre of town.

Di Walters’s passion for her job as the Coffs Harbour Salvation Army’s welfare officer is fuelled by vast compassion for those like Steve and Dave, who are struggling to survive and an equally vast rage for those who ignore their plight.

She sees at first hand the truth of the ‘two-speed economy’ and says the division is a lot deeper and wider than we prefer to believe.

“They say Australia is a first world country – it’s not,” she said.

“There are two Australias.”

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