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Newcastle to shine a spotlight on Homelessness NSW

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Niki Gil still remembers the enormity of the task her team faced when they arrived in the flood ravaged areas surrounding Lismore in March 2022. 

The Uniting NSW.ACT programs manager, together with the Uniting NSW.ACT Recovery Support Services (RSS) outfit, was the first non-profit organisation granted government approval to give support to the thousands of people left homeless by the natural disaster. 

The devastation stretched from Lismore, Ballina, Richmond and Kyogle. 

The Lismore floods of 2022 left hundreds of community members facing homelessness. Photo: Uniting NSW.ACT.

The memories are still fresh in Niki’s mind. 

“Within 48 hours of being appointed to help with the emergency resonse, our team had 11 case workers on the ground working with flood survivors and three months later an additional seven case workers and three coordinators joined us to form a small but mighty team,” she said.

“About 4,000 people lost their homes or were deeply impacted by the floods. 

“Up to 1200 people continue to live in emergency accommodation with limited resources as they were left with only the clothes on their backs.” 

The streets of Lismore were piled high with debris as agencies worked to house those in need. Photo: Uniting NSW.ACT.

Niki and her colleague Narel Shearer will recall this experience with audiences at the Homelessness NSW Conference, which starts in Newcastle on Tuesday 19 March. 

The pair is passionate about the discussion about how climate-related disasters and extreme weather, like floods, create unique challenges faced by people who may have already been experiencing homelessness, or became homeless for the first time because of a catastrophic flood event. 

“This means some people were made homeless and did not know how to access sevices or support and were therefore navigating this for the first time while at their most vulnerable,” says Niki. 

“The impact this has had on people’s mental health has been immense as it affects everyone in so many different ways. 

“Our approach has been about being consistent, being trauma informed and having an amazing team with a skill set that our clients can feel supported in and relate to.” 

Uniting NSW.ACT were the first non-profit organisation granted government approval to assist following the Lismore floods in March 2022.

Niki says she’s most proud of the efficiency and empathy her team brings to these types of situations. 

“Our team consists of people who live in the same communities and flood affected areas and have also been personally impacted by the floods, but still want to use their skills to help where they can,” she added. 

Niki and Narel are joining several keynote speakers on stage at the NSW Homelessness Conference at Newcastle Town Hall from 19 to 21 March. 

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