New data paints an optimistic picture for homelessness in Tamworth, but the city's biggest community housing non-profit says things aren't as pretty as they appear on the surface.
Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare on Tuesday, February 13, shows 46 fewer people accessed specialist homelessness services in Tamworth in 2022-23 compared to the previous financial year.
But Homes North Senior Housing Manager Nicholas Grimes says there's an important distinction between the number of people getting help and the number needing help.
"The numbers are just not representative of the climate we're seeing at the moment. I was completely shocked when I saw them," Mr Grimes said.
"It has not gotten better. We're really struggling. I've got three staff whose entire job from nine to five is just assessing people who are homeless. Some days they might see 10 new clients each."
If anything, Mr Grimes said, the new data is cause for alarm because it suggests more people are giving up on seeking help altogether, and are therefore not counted in the statistics.
"There's huge numbers in metro areas but that's because that's where the support is. I'd dare to say if we had the support here we'd have much higher numbers because more people would be able to get help," he said.
"I think a lot of people at the moment are realising there's not as much help out there as is needed so they're just not even bothering [to ask], which is not good because that means more people on the street."
This worrying trend is something Tamworth Family Support Services (TFSS) also warned the Leader about in December 2023.
TFSS qualifies as a NSW Specialist Homelessness Service (SHS), which is the type of organisation the new data was pulled from.
Mr Grimes says providing infrastructure and funding for services like TFSS is "crucial" to solving the regional housing squeeze before it balloons into a full-blown crisis.
"We need more houses, we need more properties, and our support services need to be adequately funded," he said,
"If our SHS aren't adequately funded to have enough staff, they can only look after a certain amount of people. I'm sure if they had the staffing and the budgets and everything else the numbers would be higher because they can only work with what they've got."
What's happening outside Tamworth?
In the big picture, an analysis of the data by advocacy body Homelessness NSW shows a total of 2845 people sought specialist homelessness services in the New England North West last financial year.
However, the LGA with the biggest spike in people seeking help was Narrabri with those affected increasing by 15 per cent [43 people] in the last financial year.
Narrabri also posted the biggest increase over the data's full eight-year period, with the number of affected people increasing from 206 in 2014/15 to 338 in 2022/23 - a 64 per cent hike.
A ray of hope for the New England North West came from Moree Plains, as the LGA showed a 52 per cent drop in people accessing homelessness services in the past financial year.
The overall population of the rural shire also declined more than five per cent in the same period.