FAMILIES forced out of housing are living in cars, furtively driving around in the dark until they find a quiet, safe spot to park.
No wheels? More worries.
The Emerald Neighbourhood Centre has run out of free tents.
Couch surfing or squatting is how young and old get through the night as the rental accommodation crisis hits new lows and swells the numbers of homeless in Emerald.
Central Highlands Council Deputy Mayor and neighbourhood centre patron Paul Bell said the organisation was dealing with more than 25 new clients a month - locals and transients in search of work - up from 10 per month a year ago.
Another damaging trend was families multi-sharing properties to cut down on expenses, resulting in the breakdown of long-standing relationships.
"After Christmas there was a lot of family breakdowns because of the multi-sharing," Cr Bell said.
"It's sad and there's nothing we can do. We never thought we'd see the day where we give them a tent to go somewhere. Now we've run out of tents.
"People are living in their cars, and if they've got a car they're lucky.
"If they haven't, they are squatting, double-bunking or couch surfing. It is men, women and children."
Cr Paul Bell
"Domestic violence is rife.
"… A lot of these people are being encouraged to come here for the jobs, for opportunities, and certainly through the media it's being talked of as the land of milk and honey but when it comes to the mere fact of getting a unit to rent, a house or roof over your head, it's a significant problem."
Accommodation - responses and strategies for housing - is one of the major issues on the agenda at this week's Central Highlands Development Corporation's Investing in our Future two-day forum.
Cr Bell said 25 accommodation units were urgently needed to support the neighbourhood centre in dealing with the homeless crisis in a rental market he described as "the worst we've ever seen".
"There is no longer a good cheap rental option where you can put one, two or three different single people together or a family into a two-bedder," he said.
"They're just not there and the only option is to leave town or continue to live rough, which I think in the 21st century is a pretty unacceptable standard of living for people in our community.
"If the neighbourhood centre is in the high 20s now, of people identifying themselves as homeless, what happens in two years time?"
Cr Paul Bell
Cr Bell said all support agencies for the homeless and disadvantaged were "at the end of their tether" across the region.
He called on government, business and industry leaders to come together to brainstorm solutions.
"Growth is good and something we support… but I think we're missing the point if we think we can support and build camps for those who are able to participate in the growth industries," Cr Bell said.
"We've got to make sure someone's building accommodation and support for those who are at the margins.
"Now is the time for those benefiting the most from the boom to look at how we can fix and support those who are in these situations where the rental market is totally outside of their income stream and capacity to maintain food on the table and a roof over their heads."
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