While many of us rode out COVID isolation working from home in our pyjamas and watching too much Netflix, Vicky Meyer barely stopped to take a breath. She was flat out finding accommodation and basic services for the Sunshine Coast’s hundreds of homeless people, who have done it worse than most.
As executive manager for community services with IFYS (Integrated Family and Youth Service), her passion is helping those most in need and this year has been extremely tough. When COVID hit, those sleeping rough suddenly found amenities like public toilets, showers and barbecues they ordinarily depended on, closed.
“IFYS stood up and took a lead in conjunction with the Department of Housing and the Sunshine Coast Council,” Ms Meyer says. “We set up a response at Sunshine Coast Stadium for a period of time when COVID was at its height, delivering services for six weeks for 306 people. We provided a one-stop shop for individuals to access a hot meal and a shower, mental health services and financial counselling all under one roof.
“At the height of COVID, we had 15 accommodation arrangements across the Sunshine Coast. In any one night, we were housing over 100 people in motels, hotels, cabins. We took an exclusive lease on the Sunshine Coast Sport and Recreation Centre at Currimundi, which enabled us to support families.
“We’ve seen people who have lost their jobs and their accommodation as a result of COVID. Homelessness is an issue on the Sunshine Coast that has remained fairly hidden until this year.”
Ms Meyer says IFYS has had over 600 reports of rough sleepers on the Coast since the beginning of the year and she loves being in a position where she can help.
“I started my career as a frontline housing officer more years ago than I care to remember and I’ve worked across government and the private sector in all areas of human services delivery.
“I’m really driven by building community capacity and the concept of social justice. My driving force is assisting people to live their best life. I think I have the best job in the world, I feel very privileged to work in the community sector.”
Based in Buderim, Ms Meyer has lived on the Coast for 16 years and travels across the state for her work. With an eleven-year-old daughter of her own, it breaks her heart to see children living on the streets.
“The youth sector is in dire need of support,” she says. “Young people are sleeping rough every night. We run two youth shelters and they are full every night. There are individuals who live under bridges, sleep on beaches and in sand dunes, occupying spaces under disused buildings. Everybody has known there’s homelessness here but this year has amplified the visibility of homelessness and allowed us to shine a greater lens on it.”Ms Meyer says a lack of rentals on the Coast has seen families living in their cars.
“During COVID it has been a real eye-opener. Mums and dads are supporting multiple children in cars and tents, trying to get them to school, trying to make sure they have the ability to shower and toilet with local amenities closed. It has been heartbreaking to see. As a mother you want the best for your children.
“Living on the Sunshine Coast I’m really invested in the community I live and work in. We’re predicting an increase in the housing crisis we’re seeing now,” she says. “There are significant issues in terms of lack of private rentals and low vacancy rates preventing people accessing rentals. We’re predicting the situation will worsen before it gets better in the new year.
“We’re continuing to work with the Department of Housing and the Sunshine Coast Council to identify opportunities. For example we’ve had access to a 40-bed accommodation option that would otherwise have been used for sporting groups and that will provide temporary accommodation through to June next year.
“Housing is a basic human right and people are really struggling at the moment. It’s not just a state government issue, it’s a community issue. For us, one of the strategies in the new year is to highlight where there are opportunities for the community to invest.
“There are huge numbers of people volunteering and it has really brought out a sense of community spirit. People who may not have otherwise volunteered have really come forward over the last nine months in an amazing outcry of community spirit and really supported us to deliver the services we have this year.”
IFYS staff and volunteers provide Christmas meals to those staying in accommodation and try to make it into a festive day, with 500 hampers filled with donated goods going out to those in need in the next few weeks.
If you’d like to volunteer or offer a donation to IFYS, please call 5438 3000 or visit the website at ifys.com.au.