Homeless Memorial Service

Sydney’s Homeless Double in Cost-of-Living Crisis

12 June 2024

2.4 MINS

by Dr Michael Walker

Sydney’s population of rough sleepers has almost doubled during the cost-of-living crisis over the past three years, from 1,141 in 2021 to 2,037 now.

At least 140 people in NSW die while homeless each year, and have a life expectancy 30 years lower than the general population, with a median age of just 50 years.

On Friday, 21 June, Bishop Terry Brady and the Sydney Street Choir will lead an interfaith service in Martin Place Auditorium to remember and honour the lives of those who have died while homeless in the past year.

“It is a tragic fact that too many people die while homeless, and there is no one to pay their respects,” said PAYCE Foundation and End Street Sleeping Collaboration Director Dominic Sullivan.

“This service fills that void and acknowledges that every life is precious.”

In addition to the general community, the memorial service also welcomes the friends, families, and caregivers of those who have sadly died, including the many outreach and health workers, volunteers, and other community workers who work with those experiencing homelessness.

Overwhelmed Services

Rough sleepers are only the most visible people experiencing homelessness. A far greater number suffer out of public sight: sleeping in cars, staying temporarily with others, or crammed into severely crowded dwellings.

Homeless services have reached capacity, and the length of time it is taking to secure a housing outcome is increasing. St Vincent de Paul housing and homelessness services say that the length of time has almost tripled in the past five years and is now more than six months.

The reason is the difficulty in finding a place to live. New South Wales has a very small number of available social and public housing dwellings, and their availability is shrinking, from 5.1 per cent of available dwellings twenty years ago to just 4.5 per cent today.

The result is the surge of street sleepers that we have seen in the past three years, plus a less visible increase in other forms of homelessness.

Solutions Required

In the immediate term, the State Government can follow the example of South Australia by introducing Code Red Code Blue protocols.

That would allow government-owned resources to be used to shelter homeless people during times of extreme heat or extreme cold and at least ameliorate the worst of the conditions that rough sleepers are exposed to.

Code Red protocols would also benefit people on very low incomes who do have a roof over their heads, but are unable to afford to run their air conditioning due to high energy costs.

In the medium term, more funding needs to be provided for specialist homelessness services and for public and social housing.

The St Vincent de Paul Society says the NSW Government needs to set aside a further $50 million a year on specialist homelessness services just to cope with the increase in demand.

In the longer term, the increase in homelessness is tied up with the broader housing crisis to which there is no simple solution, but an increase in public and social housing needs to be one element.

Shared Humanity

NSW Minister for Homelessness, Rose Jackson MLC, will attend the Memorial Service and speak about the Government’s current plans.

Fr Peter Smith, Justice and Peace Promoter for the Archdiocese, said addressing homelessness was not just a concern for governments and support agencies.

“It is up to all of us in society to see these people and to recognise their humanity to draw them into society. Jesus spent much of His public ministry seeking out the marginalised. We must do likewise,” Fr Peter said.

The Homeless Persons Memorial Service runs from 6-7pm on Friday 21 June, in the Martin Place Amphitheatre.


Dr Michael Walker is a Social Justice Facilitator for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

Republished with thanks to The Catholic Weekly.

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  1. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 12 June 2024 at 10:39 am - Reply

    Especially older women (many who work as nurses, etc ) are homeless. I recently watched a TV programme in which the young woman in a hijab has a job looking after a playground adjacent a high -rise Social Housing in Melbourne where her family of eleven brothers and sisters live. It seems to me there are homes for migrants (some of whom do not work ) , but, no social housing for Australians. Then, there is the problem of over-charging by dishonest builders which is preventing young couples from owning their own home. They should be investigated.

  2. Gail Petherick 12 June 2024 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Thank you Dr Walker for this very important article on the state of Homelessness in Sydney and beyond. It is heart rendering.
    Thank God for Pastor Brady and the Sydney Street choir who will hold the inter church memorial service 21 June at Martin Place to remember those who have died early in life, alone, suffering poverty, pain and often isolation from the mainstream and rejection.
    It is a tragedy to see so many Australians of all ages and backgrounds suffering from the economic downfall we now face. Some homelessness was caused by the collapse of business and jobs during COVID and some caused by unregulated housing prices and rents but we also have so many disadvantaged people. Others have fallen sick, faced a divorce, or domestic violence or found they can’t make ends meet o given into addictions.
    These people are precious to God, their father and Creator… Jesus had a heart for the poor and ‘nowhere to lay His head.’ It’s a great challenge for all of us as Christians to seek Him and to know how and where to help… ‘There but for the grace of God go you or I’
    We can though pray for these people in need, and pray rental prices come down, and that more houses and units are built. And pray for justice and fairness about priority housing and for our Govt to act wisely concerning programs to help people.
    Thank God for St Vincent de Paul and the Salvos and Food bank. They keep reporting the need for food and clothing has skyrocketed, and so many churches are now helping out in a greater way.

  3. Cecily Mac Alpine 16 June 2024 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Yes, indeed! Thank God for St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvos and other churches, Food Bank and all others who are helping to provide the necessities of life for the homeless, and let’s pray for governments and private enterprise to move quickly to build more shelters and hostels for immediate relief for the homeless, so they don’t have to spend one more night out in the cold.

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