Residents 'rough it' during annual Vinnie's Sleepout at Muswellbrook Showground

IF there was ever an occasion to highlight the plight of homelessness in the region, then the organisers of the annual Vinnie's Sleepout picked the right time.

With the Upper Hunter currently experiencing its coldest week of the year, the event's hearty participants felt the harsh reality of "roughing it" first-hand at the Muswellbrook Showground on Thursday night.

And, while they might have enjoyed a couple of "creature comforts" - like an extra blanket or a mattress, not everyone is so lucky.

"We often forget about the things we take for granted such as warmth or, even, food," St Vincent de Paul's Carole O'Brien said.

"But, there are people in this town, and neighbouring areas, who are doing it tough.

"So, this is a good way to raise awareness, and money, about homelessness locally and nationally.

"We've got young children, high school students, community leaders, businessmen and women taking part this year, even the clients from Warrior Disability Services.

"Some are sleeping in tents or in their swags, near a fire, while others have opted to catch 40 winks in their car or the showground hall.

"We try to make it a bit fun, too; we have games, a trivia quiz and an auction.

"Muswellbrook Red Cross provided the soup, while Double Picc served coffee in the morning.

"It's very community-orientated."

After attracting 15 people for the inaugural Sleepout, the number's quadrupled in recent years, much to the delight of Ms O'Brien.

"It's the fifth time Vinnies, Hope City Church Muswellbrook, Upper Hunter Homeless Support and Upper Hunter Youth Services have joined forces," she said.

"So, it has grown since its inception.

"And, in 2019, we received a lot of donations as well, which is terrific.

"Our thanks go to Pacific Furniture and Bedding, Woolworths, Big W and Westpac for their support.

"We raised $3000 in 2018, so we're hoping to surpass that figure."

Fittingly, as the local residents took part in the Sleepout, Shadow Housing Minister Tania Mihailuk slammed the Berejiklian government for failing to apportion any new funds to tackle the increased rate of homelessness.

Despite the Liberal Government's commitment to halve rough sleeping across NSW by 2025, nothing was allocated in the budget to reduce homelessness or boost social housing supply across the state.

Homelessness within NSW has increased by 37 per cent since 2011, and there are an estimated 60,000 applicants (equivalent to more than 100,000 people) on the social housing waitlist, facing a 10-year minimum wait for a property to become available in many housing zones throughout NSW.

The most recent figures show that specialist homelessness services supported 71,628 vulnerable people, despite receiving funding for only 58,000 clients.

"The current housing crisis has led to a situation where the only option for many people is crisis accommodation, couch surfing, or rough sleeping on the streets," Ms Mihailuk said.

"Despite big promises to halve rough sleeping by 2025, the government has failed to deliver any additional funding towards achieving this goal."