Alice Springs homelessness increasing, accommodation provider reports tripling in requests for help

Under the cold Red Centre skies, David Pearsall is woken by mice gnawing at his frost-covered tent set up behind Telegraph Station.

It is not a lifestyle the 63-year-old ever expected to lead, but this has been his reality for the past 15 years.

He is one of a growing number of people sleeping rough in Alice Springs this winter, as night-time temperatures plummet to sub-zero conditions.

“It’s hard,” Mr Pearsall said.

“It’s infested with mice out there, so the mice are constantly making holes and trying to get in. And then you’ve got the birds and the dingoes talking to me.

Mr Pearsall regularly attends the Salvation Army’s Waterhole community centre in town, where he has access to toilets, showers and washing machines, as well as food and drink.

The New Zealander once lived a “material” life with his then-partner, but ultimately, he said, “everything collapsed”.

He requires ongoing medical treatment for a health condition, but has struggled for decades trying to get a disability pension.

“It’s been going on for 40 years of my body basically not functioning,” he said.

“I’m not interested in labouring, it screws my body up because I’m sick.”

Calls for an ‘outreach team’

In the Northern Territory, the homelessness rate is 12 times the national average and there is an estimated shortfall of 9,000 social and affordable dwellings at any given time.

A man sits in an office looking sternly at the camera.
NT Shelter’s Peter McMillan says a more proactive approach is needed to deal with homelessness in Alice Springs.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

The Territory’s peak body for affordable housing and homelessness has flagged a concerning spike in the number of people accessing their members’ services, including one accommodation provider that reported a tripling in the number of requests for assistance compared to this time last year.

NT Shelter executive officer Peter McMillan said the town would benefit from an outreach team to help meet the needs of people who did not have a place to stay.

Similar teams already exist in other parts of the Territory.

“What we really need to see in Alice Springs is a more proactive response,” he said.

“In Darwin, for example, we are lucky we have some outreach services, which check on the welfare of people that are sleeping rough,” he said.

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