Cost of living crisis: Photo lays bare 'heartbreaking' Aussie problem

A fourfold increase in people seeking meals has put pressure on volunteers trying to help them.

In 2021, a small group of devoted community members began doing what they could to ensure homeless people in their area were getting a hot meal.

Initially feeding a modest 15 people on a Sunday night in Perth's Fremantle, they've seen that number spiral to up to 60 and now provide meals on Thursdays and public holidays.

"We're seeing new people, those we haven't seen before and we're also seeing people we've been seeing for a long time so nothing is changing for them," Freo Street Kitchen group member Ann Reeves told Yahoo News Australia.

"I think that despondency, and the fact they're about to face another winter, it's heartbreaking."

People gathering in a car park for the Freo Street Kitchen group. Source: Supplied
The volunteer group has seen numbers needing help spiral as Australia's homeless problem reaches new levels. Source: Supplied

Ms Reeves said it's alarming to witness an increase in younger people attending the street kitchen, with some mothers also taking meals home for their children.

"We see mainly men on the street, we don't know where the women are going and that's concerning. I just hope they have somewhere safe to go."

The Freo Street Kitchen is one of many community based groups to pop up in recent years around the country as residents look to tackle the homelessness problem, often dismayed by the responses of state and federal governments.

As costs grow and the homeless problem escalates, group lead Robyn Williams shared a photo with the community of Sunday's recipients in a dark car park, unsheltered from the elements. While on this occasion the weather held up, the coming months will bring far more challenging conditions, with Ms Williams seeking a more suitable venue and assistance from a community that has already given so much.

Each night of free meals costs the group up to $300 while they rely heavily on food donations from local businesses.

A group of volunteers with Freo Street Kitchen earlier this year. Source: Supplied
A group of volunteers with Freo Street Kitchen earlier this year. Source: Supplied

Call for Federal Budget to address homelessness

In Ms Reeves' state of Western Australia, the state government has committed to $511 million to tackle the housing crisis in the state, however there has been no timeline provided for 700 new social housing homes promised.

"We hear about the government putting so much money in and they're promising to build new houses but it's not going to be enough. We're not actually seeing anything happening now, and it's now that something is needed," she told Yahoo.

With the Federal Budget to be delivered next week, Homelessness Australia has called on the Albanese government to increase financial support to young Australians who it says are being forced to choose between food and a roof over their heads amid a crippling rental crisis.

"We urgently need to lift Youth Allowance and Commonwealth Rent Assistance so young people have the income they need to avoid homelessness," CEO Kate Colvin said. "By failing to act, we are condemning growing numbers of young people to homelessness and poverty."

People rough sleeping for the first time

As witnessed by Ms Reeves, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW chief executive Yolanda Saiz said many people were seeking help for the first time amid rising living costs and housing pressures.

"Rough-sleeping is actually only six per cent of the total homeless population," she said.

"It's really about insecure housing — people sleeping in their cars, people sleeping in tents, boarding houses or overcrowded dwellings."

The City of Sydney council found almost 300 people were sleeping rough in the inner city in February, a 23 per cent increase on the previous year.

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