WHILE most were still tucked up in bed in Tuesday’s early hours, Cathy Handcock was trawling the streets of Newcastle in search of those sleeping rough.
The Toronto Diggers chief executive was not so excited about the early start, but homelessness was a cause close to her heart.
“My idea of homelessness used to be old drunk people in the parks and I have learned it’s not like that,” she said. “There’s a community of families living in cars and we need to do something. It can happen to anyone, we’re really just three pay packets away in a lot of cases.”
October 18-20 is Newcastle’s first Registry Week, where a team of 50 volunteers will survey the region’s homeless.
Funded by Nova for Women and Children through NSW’s Family and Community Services and co-ordinated by the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, Registry Week is the starting point to address the housing and support needs of rough sleepers.
Nova chief executive Kelly Hansen said the initiative would help improve services.
“If we go to the person, we will have a better idea how to meet their needs and identify gaps in the system,” she said.
Ms Handcock said taking part in the CEO Sleepout had changed her perception on homelessness.
“It’s not necessarily drugs or alcohol related … it’s people losing their jobs, it’s families,” she said. “In this country I really don’t think that it should be at this level.”
While this is the first time the survey had been held in Newcastle, the initiative had been successful in many countries since it was developed in the US six years ago.
Newcastle Registry Week co-ordinator Michael Fitzpatrick said, in previous surveys, rough sleepers had responded well and had subsequently accessed housing.
“It is important to look at new and evidence-based approaches to improve the services offered to those most vulnerable,” he said.
Family and Community Services executive district director Marie New said the survey would provide valuable information. “We will … be in an improved position to work together to plan for an appropriate range of services,” Ms New said.
A report will be released on Friday.