Tara's job title is Community Navigator, but it's not uncommon to hear her described as a Community Angel. Her role is to help people in need navigate complex support services and systems. Often this includes working with people who are homeless. This Homelessness Week, read about what makes Tara tick and what she would like to see change.

Provide a brief summary of the work you do in the homelessness space.

Being a Community Navigator, I get referred clients who are homeless or experiencing hard times from different community organisations. Or, they self-refer into the Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre. Engaging with clients on our first meeting, we speak about their goals, any barriers they have and discuss different options for housing. Having identification is a must when applying for properties so I look over their ID and if they need support to re-issue cards, we order them. I contact my networks and with the client to see what availabilities there are in the community. We speak about budgets, affordability and sometimes talk about moving out of the region for more opportunities. The client is always in the driver's seat. I work with them to make them comfortable and support them to be safe and have a roof over their head.
What drew you to work with people experiencing homelessness and other housing issues?

I love meeting new people but especially those who are experiencing homelessness or needing support from the community. Being a Community Navigator, my job is to link people to the community. I find that missing link and connect them together to achieve amazing outcomes. I love listening to people's past, current and future aspirations or tribulations and seeing where I can support them. The reward is reflecting on the first meeting and then seeing the client find safe accommodation, pack up their tent and belongings and move into shared housing. The thank you letters, cards and messages are all so heartfelt and provide me the fuel to continue to help others.

Can you tell us about a success story?

Community Navigators attend the weekly Comfort Kitchen on Wednesday nights, where I met a client who arrived that afternoon with a suitcase from Brisbane, straight into homelessness. We spoke about payments, options, tents, accommodation providers, caravan parks and more. I updated him with flyers, free breakfast locations and set an appointment for the next day. He attended, where he asked for support to call and claim his Bond Refund. He said he was wanting to rent a room in the community and we spoke about websites, social media pages and people placing ads on shopping centre noticeboards. He dropped in a few days later, requesting support to call some leads with housing and together we called and arranged multiple viewings. Within seven days the client was renting a room. He returned asking for support with a resume and together we emailed it to businesses he had visited who had openings. Within that afternoon he had a job interview and the next week he started full-time employment. I see him around in the community where he is still thankful for the support.

From your experience, what are the key issues contributing to homelessness in our region?

I believe COVID has a lot to answer for in contributing to homelessness in our community and the rest of Australia. For investors it is a prime time to sell with the property market absolutely booming right now. Houses are selling for records prices in just hours. After years of lockdowns, lots of southern are moving to Queensland where, compared to where they live, it's still reasonably priced. Holiday rentals are also taking away properties from the rental market. Less affordable housing brings homelessness.

What are some existing services/options you want more people to be aware of?

I work with a lot of clients around budgeting with Uniting Care. This includes budgeting bills, expenses and stretching your payments or money last the fortnight. Looking for specials and discounted rates, and trying to save for a rainy day, even if it's a couple of dollars, can help. I would suggest attending the many free community breakfasts and dinners in our community, where people connect with others, hand out basic grocery items and have a conversation with someone new.

What are some solutions you would like to see put in place to address the issue of homelessness in our region?

From my time working in community services, there are lots of people who love to help others but don’t know how to connect with them. I would suggest talking to others, putting yourself out there and offering someone a hand, support, a conversation or even a warm bed or meal. Meeting and speaking with others and being understanding of others' situations, and being non-judgmental, can go a long way.

There are magnificent ideas that are stopped by red tape and that is heartbreaking when we look at the people needing basics in our backyard and across the country.