Homelessness has risen more in Dubbo than anywhere else in western NSW, according to the latest census data.
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According to the latest census data on homelessness, on the night of the 2021 census there were 294 homeless people in the Dubbo area, up from 209 in 2016.
This accounted for the largest rise in the number of homeless people across the central west and Orana regions. In 2021, there were 163 homeless people in Bathurst compared to 157 in 2016 and in Orange the homeless grew from 102 to 122.
Lithgow, Mudgee, Bourke, Cobar, Coonamble, Broken Hill and the far west all saw decreases in the number of homeless people.
Megan Boshell, area manager for Mission Australia in Dubbo and the central west, said she wasn't surprised to hear the number of homeless people had grown so much in Dubbo.
"I think it's quite reflective of the homelessness numbers across the country as well, which we know are on the rise," she said.
"We don't have a huge amount of social housing available at the moment, we know that the rental market is incredibly tight - and it's almost impossible at the moment for people to get a rental, especially those who might be experiencing economic hardship.
"That's certainly contributing to those numbers."
Across the state, the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded 35,011 people going without a safe and secure place to call home on census night. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 3.4 percent of the population but made up 7 percent of all people homeless.
Asked why there might have been such a large rise in Dubbo compared to neighbouring areas, Ms Boshell said people experiencing housing insecurity may travel into Dubbo from further out west hoping they might have better access to housing and services.
"Dubbo acts as a really central location for people who are further west or in the far west - we will often have people accessing our services who have come into Dubbo thinking there might be more accommodation options for them and then becoming homeless," she said.
Of the 294 people in the Dubbo area recorded as homeless on census night in 2021, 72 resided in Dubbo's east, 71 were in south Dubbo, 60 in west Dubbo, 31 in Coonabarabran, 22 in Wellington, 16 in Narromine and 11 in Gilgandra.
The areas which saw the greatest increase in homeless population included south Dubbo where there were only 50 people recorded homeless in 2016 and west Dubbo which has skyrocketed from only 15 in 2016.
Ms Boshell said many of Dubbo's homeless are those Mission Australia calls "hidden homeless" - that is, people who are experiencing homelessness but who are not rough sleeping.
"There's a move away from just classifying homelessness as someone sleeping on the street," she said.
"The increase in the number is also reflective of the changing face of homelessness - lots of people couch surfing, living in overcrowding, living in different types of lodging which are not safe and suitable and stable accommodation."
In the Dubbo Regional Council Area, 93 homeless people were living in severely overcrowded dwellings - up from just seven in 2016.
56 people were staying temporarily with other households, 61 were in supported accommodation for the homeless, 25 were living in boarding houses and 10 were living in other temporary lodgings.
The number of people living in tents or sleeping rough in Dubbo declined from 14 in 2016 to just four in 2021.
Although the number of rough sleepers has declined, Ms Boshell said that hidden forms of homelessness can be just as unsafe and precarious for those experiencing them.
"The reason why we consider that to be a form of homelessness is because that's people living in an environment which isn't safe. Often sleeping in pretty temporary bedding situations - on the floor, on the couch - it doesn't mean they're in a nice, comfy spare room at someone's house," she explained.
"That's not a long-term, stable accommodation option for people. And that overcrowding is really quite common in the clients we work with and we know it's something that's on the rise, particularly given the rental market situation."
In response to the data, Mission Australia's State Director Nada Nasser is calling for the Commonwealth and NSW governments to urgently commit to the building of more social and affordable homes.
"The severe shortage of social and affordable housing, a private rental market that is extremely unaffordable across metro and regional NSW and soaring cost of living are accelerating the housing and homelessness crisis," she said.
"Safe and secure housing provides a stable base from which children can attend school, adults can work, people can be healthy and communities can thrive."
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