Ambarvale family knows what it's like to be homeless

Home, sweet home: Carlos and Stephanie Robles with their children Alejandro, Cruz and Karlii at their new home in Ambarvale.Picture: Jonathan Ng
Home, sweet home: Carlos and Stephanie Robles with their children Alejandro, Cruz and Karlii at their new home in Ambarvale.Picture: Jonathan Ng

CARLOS and Stephanie Robles moved out of Sydney to give their children a better life.

But a year later they found themselves without a home, without an income and without anywhere to send their kids to school.

"It's something you wouldn't even think of — at no point did we think that one day we might be homeless," Mr Robles told the Advertiser.

When the couple attended the Sector Connect homelessness forum last Thursday, it was one year to the day since they became homeless.

They've now started renting a house in Ambarvale and their youngest is still telling Mr Robles how much she loves their new place.

After having their third child, the family moved from their full-time jobs in the city to start a successful clothing business on the Central Coast.

But then they found out that their landlord wanted to move back into their home and their youngest daughter needed cranial surgery.

As rejections poured in from real estate agents, the family put their belongings and the equipment for their business into storage and took the train back to Sydney to look for emergency accommodation.

Housing NSW put them in a motel, but they were unable to enrol their children in school until someone from the Department of Education stepped in to help them.

"The way the system is set up is you can put your kids in your local school, so you have to be living in one area to put them in," Mr Robles said.

They then moved to a refuge centre in Surry Hills, near the hospital where their daughter would have her operation. "The refuge goes into lockdown at night, so you have to be in the door at 8pm," Mr Robles said.

On top of this, they were paying more in storage fees and refuge payments than they had paid to rent a home on the Central Coast.

"I can't put into words that sense that you don't have control over anything and feel you can't provide for them and you can't give them security," Mr Robles said. "You can say 'everything will be OK, we'll find somewhere', but in the back of your head you know that's not a given."

Their children struggled to understand the situation, with their youngest asking what happened to their old home, their middle child becoming angry easily and the eldest incapable of saying the word "homeless".

Mr Robles said while at the refuge they decided to set up their own organisation, The Treehouse, to educate people about homelessness and try to find solutions.


Renting crisis causes homelessness

MORE and more Campbelltown residents are couch surfing, living out of their cars or sleeping on the street as people battle to find affordable rental properties.

On Thursday, groups working with the area's homeless brainstormed ways to cope with Campbelltown's rising problem at a special forum run by Sector Connect.

Campbelltown Council's community resources and development manager Bruce McCausland said there was a higher percentage of low-cost rental housing in Campbelltown than anywhere in Sydney, but it was an increasingly competitive market.

"It can be harder to get somewhere to rent here than it is in the inner city," Mr McCausland he said.

A study by Campbelltown TAFE presented at the forum found that in one week, 210 people inspected 19 houses in the local area in the $300-$400 price range.

Mr McCausland said as a result of these contributing factors the council was seeing more locals sleeping on couches, living out of caravans, sharing houses, living out of cars and sleeping rough.

In 2005/06 there were about 750 locals seeking temporary accommodation, more than 2000 in 2008/09 and nearly 1700 in 2009/10.

Homelessness NSW chief executive Gary Moore said many people who ended up sleeping rough in the inner city originally came from western and south-west Sydney.

"To achieve a significant reduction in homelessness, we've got to do far better about preventing people becoming homeless in the first place and we've got to do far better at providing independent affordable housing," Mr Moore said.

Gemma Cooney from Housing NSW said the hardest part of her job was evicting people from social housing.

"This is about how do we encourage people to work with all of us to prevent them from going into that spiral of being totally homeless, especially when there's children involved," she said.

Sector Connect director Jane McIvor said some of the ideas that came from the forum were providing additional refuge centres and looking at ways to provide support to those with a mental illness coming out of hospital.