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ABC NEWS Agencies help Coopernook State Forest campers find housing after homelessness

ABC Mid North Coast / By Wiriya Sati Posted Wed 24 Aug 2022 at 6:21am

After living in a leaking tent in a bush camp last winter, Mick now lives in a unit with his dog. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

After living in a leaking tent in a bush camp last winter, Mick now lives in a unit with his dog. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

When Mick Kruetz hears the rain fall outside, he feels an immense sense of gratitude for the roof over his head. A year ago, Mick was part of a community of men permanently camping in the Coopernook State Forest on the NSW mid-north coast after finding themselves homeless. They were eventually moved on from the site by Forestry Corporation, which doesn’t allow permanent camping. “I always smile when it rains and I’ve got a proper roof over my head because the tent did leak,” Mr Kreutz said. “I do miss the fire but I’d rather have the heater.”

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Mick says he doesn’t move much after his foot operation, so he watches a lot of TV. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

Mr Kruetz is one of three campers who have managed to find more permanent housing amid a severe housing crisis on the mid-north coast. With the help of agencies including Samaritans and Home in Place, Mr Kruetz is now settled in a onebedroom apartment where he can live with his much-loved dog. The need for permanent housing was expedited because Mr Kreutz, who has diabetes, needed surgery to have his toe amputated and needed a sanitary place to recover.

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Mick says he’s very comfortable this winter. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

While he misses some of the people from the camp community, there is much he doesn’t miss. “Some of the people, the rangers, no shower, no flushing toilet,” he said. Mr Kreutz said that being almost 60 and having had a stroke and a brain injury, he felt more secure being closer to shops and doctors. “Having a place [where] you know you don’t have to move and you can settle down is excellent,” he said.

Significant demand

Home in Place said in a statement there were close to 300 applicants on the social housing waiting list in the Taree region and about 50,000 across the state. The agency said significantly greater investment from the federal government was required to prevent “even more people experiencing socially damaging levels of financial hardship”.

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Erik now lives in a unit and works on a truck. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

Erik Wade has also transitioned from the bush camp to permanent housing. Mr Wade also needed surgery and a place to recuperate, which Home in Place was able to find for him. Being able to have knee operations meant he could get back to earning an income.

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Erik started work with a truck and trailer and now most of his work is for the Forestry Corporation of NSW. (Supplied: Erik Wade)

“I work for a bloke at Coopernook — he gave me a job driving trucks and dogs and most of our work is for Forestry — it’s a bit ironic but it’s good, I’m happy with life,” Mr Wade said. Before he could work, he said it was difficult to afford his bond and all the expenses of setting up his unit.

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Erik says he enjoys a hot shower after a day’s work now, after living in trucks and a caravan in the bush for 20 years. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

“I didn’t know whether to keep it [the unit] or go back out the bush,” he said. “It’s pretty good but it takes a bit of getting used to — it’s not where I really want to be or belong but I’m getting used to it. “For years I drove trucks and lived in trucks and then out in the bush, so this is the first house I’ve had for 20 years.” He said he would never have known how to get a place if not for the help from agencies such as Samaritans and Home in Place. “I had my caravan and was living alright — I chose to live like that. I didn’t know this was available,” he said.

Cost of living adds to challenge

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Shane with his daughter at the caravan park they’ve been living at for the past three months. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

The journey to finding housing has been more difficult for Shane Tomkins, who had also lived at the Coopernook camp with his daughter. Mr Tompkins’ literacy challenges and lack of a permanent address meant he couldn’t access Centrelink payments. He has been staying in a caravan park in Harrington but is coming to the end of an extended three-month stay.

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Shane and his daughter with the new bike he bought as her 7th birthday present. (ABC Mid North Coast: Wiriya Sati)

“They’re the only caravan park that has helped us out, they helped us a lot,” Mr Tomkins said. “They put the prices down for us, let us stay longer than we were supposed to, they helped out with my daughter, gave her things to play with and ice-creams.” Mr Tomkins received help from the agency Pathfinders, which provided financial assistance and help to access Centrelink and other services. He is now hoping to move into permanent accommodation, following help from a real estate agent. “We’re going [back] out to the forest for two weeks, we found a place we can lease, we’ve just got to find the bond and that’s the hardest part,” he said. Mr Tomkins said he struggled with the rising cost of living, but did the best he could, including for his daughter’s recent seventh birthday when he was able to get cupcakes to take to school and buy her a bike. “She’s my main reason to keep fighting for a place,” he said.

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Supplying 30 cupcakes to the school wasn’t cheap, but Shane says it was worth it to make his daughter’s birthday special. (Supplied: Shane Tompkins)