Waking up to presents, enjoying a meal surrounded by loved ones and feeling joyous on Christmas day is not a reality for everyone in Brisbane.
Rough sleepers on the street, living in shelters or couch-surfing are suffering more from loneliness than homelessness during the holiday period, Wesley Mission Queensland’s crisis and relief manager Moroni Pugh said.
Mr Pugh, who is in preparing for their annual Christmas day lunches for those struggling, said Christmas was a special time for those in need.
“What we found was the issue isn’t homelessness, it’s loneliness,” he said.
“COVID-19 has certainly made it much more apparent that people are in isolation.
“The day gives them a chance to go somewhere and we can provide a decent meal and they can leave with knowing there’s a community here to help.
“Our volunteers used to join the clients who came along and eat as a community. It’s been different with COVID-19 but we are still here for them.”
Mr Pugh said services who were hosting Christmas day lunches were being challenged this year with the vaccinated mandate.
“So for many, including us here at the WMQ Brisbane Relief Hub, it is easier to cater a dine in Christmas day lunch towards those who are vaccinated, whilst we continue as usual, to provide a takeaway option for anyone else,” he said.
“Being unvaccinated is one issue, the other is many of our clients have no desire to be contact-traced so contactless takeaway becomes a better and safer option for many, vaccinated or unvaccinated.”
Mr Pugh said many people were rough sleepers, staying in shelters, couch surfing or in public housing and were facing addictions, mental health problems, poverty or domestic violence.
Wesley Mission Queensland scheduled three-course meals on December 25 – one in the city and one in Fortitude Valley – that attracted about 100 people at each venue.
Due to restrictions in the state, volunteer numbers would be reduced from 40 to 20.
Mr Pugh said there had been a rise in people staying in shelters and short-term accommodation.
“COVID-19 hasn’t changed the number of people coming to the lunches. Rough sleepers have not increased but there has been an increase in people becoming highly mobile with their accommodation,” he said.
“I think COVID-19 has sped a few things out and stand out more, but this has been going on for a long time.”
Known for providing tea, coffee, biscuits and a friendly chat to those who attend one of 14 vans across the state every night of the year, Christmas day for Rosies – Friends on the Street will be no different.
Chief executive Jayne Shallcross said they expected more people out this year with the rise of homeless and disadvantaged people they had seen since the pandemic began.
“We are not only seeing more homeless people, but people who are dealing with the housing and rental crisis in places like Brisbane,” she said.
“We often have people who may have a roof over their heads but struggle to meet their rent and put food on the table so there’s a lot of financial pressure in the market at the moment.”
Ms Shallcross said Christmas was difficult for people, even more so during a pandemic.
“People who are out on the street or generally isolated or in difficult circumstances continue to need support regardless of what is happening,” she said.
“It’s funny because Christmas is such a wonderful and magical time for everyone but people on street or who are disadvantaged, socially isolated or are unable to see loved ones, the season heightens their stress.
“The ability for Rosies and patrons to come together is a really lovely thing.”
A Department of Communities, Housing and Digital Economy spokesman said the government had multiple services to help vulnerable Queenslanders ahead of Christmas.
“Many neighbourhood and community centres provide emergency relief, including food, vouchers and financial assistance as well as information, services and referrals to other support services and agencies in the lead up to the Christmas period,” he said.
“Partner organisations, including Micah Projects and Brisbane City Council, have reported a significant reduction in rough sleepers in Brisbane in 2021.
“As at 1 July, 2021, the department had allocated $122 million (GST exclusive) to 176 specialist homelessness services across Queensland.”
The spokesman said temporary supported accommodation and other support services were provided for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
During the Christmas holiday period people seeking assistance to find emergency and temporary accommodation can contact the 24/7 Homelessness Hotline on 1800 474 753.
Housing Service Centres are open until 4.30pm on Christmas Eve and reopen at 8.30am on Tuesday.
A range of non-government organisations are also available over the holiday period. These include:
Lifeline – phone or text 13 11 14
St Vincent de Paul Society – phone 1800 846 643
Urgent housing support – phone 13 QGOV (13 74 68)
Homelessness Hotline – phone 1800 474 753
Emergency maintenance for public housing tenants – phone 1800 808 107
1800RESPECT (domestic and family violence helpline) – phone 1800 737 732
DV Connect Womensline – phone 1800 811 811
DV Connect Mensline – phone 1800 600 636
Anyone who would like to support Rosies, can visit their website.