A HARROWING 1,500 people in the Riverina are wrestling with the plight of homelessness, according to the St Vincent De Paul Society.
Already-struggling support services are being stretched to their limits as the region’s rate of poverty continues to climb.
Local shelter Edel Quinn is almost always operating at full capacity, with an empty room filled within 24 hours of it being vacated.
It is estimated 250 of the 1,500 people are sleeping rough in Wagga.
Poverty-stricken drifter Cliff Woods – who sleeps in a dilapidated caravan in Lockhart – said it has become increasingly difficult to access support.
He believes Martin Place’s notorious “tent city” has created a negative stigma for those doing it tough.
“I’ve found that people have reacted poorly to me more in recent weeks – than usual – after the stuff in Sydney,” he said.
“People are quick to write you off as an alcoholic or a drug addict when they don’t know your backstory or what you’ve had to go through to survive.
“It doesn’t shock me that so many of us are in the same boat.”
Mr Woods was rendered homeless roughly five years ago, initially sparked after he fell ill and was unable to continue working as a labourer in 2012.
“I wasn’t covered under health care and I had to sell everything to pay for my treatment,” he said.
“Trying to get Centrelink payments never ended up happening for me and the next thing I knew I was collecting stale bread from the back of a bakery.
“Everyone is so focused on the big cities that they forget we’re struggling out in the sticks too.”
St Vincent De Paul regional administrator Chris Mullins cited the rising cost of electricity, gas and accommodation as a factor.
He said charity resources could be strained further in September, when everyday financial pressures begin to culminate.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told The Daily Advertiser last week.
“We’ll just have to wait and see.
“They wont know what’s hit them.”
Between 2006 and 2011 the rate of homelessness rose by 20 per cent across the state, according to the Bureau of Statistics.
Additionally, almost one-third of Wagga residents received some form of government welfare support in 2016.