Milk Crate Theatre, Sydney’s leading provider of performance programs for people with a lived experience of homelessness, says the shocking statistics published earlier this week by the ABS showing a 37% increase in homelessness in NSW are reflected in record numbers of participants attending their support workshops across Sydney.
Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday 14th March shows the situation in NSW was the worst in the country, with the number of people experiencing homelessness increasing from 28,191 in 2011 to 37,715 in 2016 - a jump of 37% compared to the national rate of 14%. And the picture was particularly bleak for young people aged between 19 to 24, increasing an alarming 92%.
Milk Crate Theatre started its work with people experiencing homelessness and those at risk at the time of the previous census data in 2000, and has expanded its offering every year, including a new focus on young people emerging over the past year.
Witnessing this increase first hand, Milk Crate Theatre’s CEO, Judith Bowtell, said services like theirs and front line community services that provide strength based support and channels to assist people back to safer and more sustainable futures, were critical to the more than 1 in 200 homeless and at risk people in our community.
She supported Homelessness NSW’s call for the State Government to act more constructively and invest in the issue before it further escalates.
“The data presented by the ABS sadly shows a continued rise in the figures and supports our efforts and the need to expand our reach across Sydney, which we have been doing with new partnerships over the past year that expand our focus on youth, women and a wider geographical region,” she said.
The organisation started working with women only groups and youth in Western Sydney last year, has increased its workshops and programs in Parramatta, and is being increasingly recruited to support initiatives in areas such as the North Shore and Inner City.
Ms Bowtell will be presenting at the Homelessness NSW Conference, which is currently running in Wollongong, along with Artistic Director Margot Politis, who will discuss how their strength based model of engagement is delivering measurable results in changing the story of homelessness for their participants.
The workshops and performance programs are designed to develop skills, confidence and social connections and support individuals to make positive life changes.
Some 17 years worth of qualitative feedback with their communities has resulted in proven long-term impacts for all participants including the development of self-empowerment and self-awareness, reduction of anxiety, improvement of inter-personal relationships and inspiring participants to have new aspirations in life.
Further development of accessible practice, community arts and cultural development, youth programming and achieving further creative collaborations and strategic goals is a key area of growth for Milk Crate Theatre as it looks to expand its activities. One such project is its Headway and Pathways Programs, which are being offered in conjunction with TAFE NSW, using performance and mentorship to provide participants with alternative pathways into tertiary studies.