Sometimes homelessness can be the lesser of two evils
A WOMAN who has been living in her car for the past four months says Pete's Place provides a vital service for people like her.
Petra Eronen has been homeless since fleeing a violent domestic situation just before Christmas.
"I'm almost glad to be living in my car as I escaped a ten year domestic violence situation," she said.
Pete's Place is a drop-in centre for homeless people in Coffs Harbour, providing essential personal services such as bathroom and laundry facilities and food.
The facility is a purpose-built extension to the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre in Earl St, managed through the St Vincent de Paul Society, with a heavy reliance on local volunteers. It is named after Peter Grealy, a benefactor of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
Petra says she is a qualified commercial cleaner but has only been able to find five jobs in the past decade.
"These haven't been through ads in the paper or anything like that - just through word of mouth - there just aren't enough jobs around."
She says the most pressing issue is a lack of affordable housing for people on welfare.
"I can't even look for housing because I know I can't afford it. I'm trapped here living in my car because the dole is just not enough," she said.
Pete's Place was one of the services Labor Senator Kristina Keneally toured while in Coffs Harbour last week.
Vinnies North Coast Executive Officer Michael Timbrell says the North Coast region of around 500,000 people is known to experience the highest poverty levels in regional NSW and the greatest rental stress, calculated by at least 30 per cent of household income being needed to cover rent.
"Often the rent bill can be much higher than this."
He says that with a lack of affordable housing comes significant levels of homelessness.
"Every night large numbers of people are sleeping rough in the outdoors, while many more, often with young children, are in risky situations such as couch-surfing, sleeping in cars or in short-term accommodation in boarding houses, motels and caravan parks," he said.