Crowds on city streets reveal number of Aussies who 'just can't afford to live'

Charities all over Australia are struggling to keep up with skyrocketing demand for their services, which they say is 'out of control'.

Queues for the SWAG Family Sydney charity in the city's CBD, as demand for food and shelter skyrockets to unprecedented levels.
Rick Herrera from the SWAG Family Sydney charity said he's never seen demand for his services this extreme. Source: Facebook

Aussie charities are reporting unprecedented demand for food and homelessness services as the cost of living crisis forces people to sleep in tents and their cars, with organisers saying huge queues spanning tens of metres long for hot meals are becoming the new normal.

Earlier this month Yahoo News reported that organisers behind a food bank and anti-homelessness charity in Melbourne were dealing with unprecedented demand for its services, which had "grown exponentially" in recent months, reflecting the "the sad new reality of our country".

Days later similar scenes were snapped in Sydney, where another charity organiser revealed he'd never seen the situation so dire. Rick Herrera from SWAG Family Sydney said he receives up to 160 calls for help from Aussies per week, while feeding hundreds on the streets of the CBD, in Liverpool and in Wollongong.

Crowds of people lined up for a charity food service in Melbourne's inner city.
Crowds of people lined up for a charity food service in Melbourne's inner city reflects the 'sad new reality' Aussies are facing in the cost of living crisis. Source: X

According to the man who runs the Sydney-based mission, "what we're seeing now, I've never seen it before".

"We’ve got elderly sleeping in cars. We’ve got families who can’t afford just the basic rent," Herrera told, adding that the crisis had now escalated to such levels that even people with homes were reaching out for help across his services.

"We’ve noticed an increase in people that actually have somewhere to live coming out just for food because after paying the rent, electricity and say the phone bill, they’ve got nothing left for shopping," he said. "Half the people on the streets now that I’m seeing are new people that just cannot afford to live."

The volunteer charity, which is not-for-profit, relies on donations to survive which Herrera said is getting more difficult in the current climate. The Sydney man, who himself is impacted by the soaring cost of living, shares a two-bedroom rental apartment with his three children and grandchildren.

"Mental health [issues] are out of control. We’ve got people that are depressed, suicidal. I get calls every night from people that are just ready to give up," he lamented.

People lining up for help from the Reaching Out In The Inner West Of Melbourne service.
Randa Beirouti said queues regularly form metres long for her charity food services around Melbourne. Source: Reaching Out In The Inner West Of Melbourne

Herrera's sentiment was echoed by the founder of charity Reaching out in the Inner West of Melbourne, Randa Beirouti, who spoke to Yahoo earlier. She said that particularly in the wake of the pandemic, the rate of people seeking help has "skyrocketed", with the "sad scenes" in viral photographs now a regular occurrence.

"Yes, this is a normal queue," she told Yahoo of a viral image showing huge swathes of people lining up for food in inner Melbourne. "Our numbers have grown exponentially."

Alongside her more than 70 volunteers, Beirouti provides over 400 meals per week for those in need. The charity frequently caters to people from Footscray, Yarraville, Sunshine, Werribee and Melton with organisers saying they often have international students relying on their service.

"We are a charity that has never sought government funding," she said. "Our premise is selfless service, to the community. We totally rely on community support and have been going since 2005, but obviously not with the same queues."

While demand ramped up in wake of the pandemic, today as inflation and rising rates squeeze Aussies, "the level of need is totally out of control," she said.

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