A shocking 247 people live in Gunnedah without a consistent roof over their head, according to the latest national homelessness estimate.
Statistics released by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare this week show there are twice as many people living homeless in Gunnedah today, as in 2014.
A disproportionate number are Indigenous, and an increasing number are children, the data shows.
Homes North CEO Maree McKenzie said the statistics will shock the city - but aren't surprising to people in the housing sector.
The city has almost eliminated so-called 'primary' homelessness by putting rooves over the head of the city's rough-sleepers.
But there are still hundreds of people couch surfing, moving between emergency accommodation and refuges, or unable to hold down a lease for the long-term.
"It's the hidden homelessness in regional areas," she said.
"And that's why I'm not surprised at the figure, but I think everyone else will be. Because in regional areas people tend to have bigger homes. They'll let someone sleep on their coach for an extended period of time.
"You think about in metro areas, don't tend to have a spare bedroom. People are more suspicious of people."
Statistics released by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare show that the problem is getting worse, not better, in the region.
In the 2014-15 financial year, the city was home to about 127 homeless people.
The crisis peaked in 2015-16 at 325.
In the 2020-21 financial year it cooled to 247.
It's a similar story in Tamworth, where today 815 live without a reliable roof over their head. In 2014, that number was just 441.
Armidale's homelessness population has neither dramatically increased nor decreased, growing from 429 in 2014-15, to 471 in 2020-21.
Tamworth Family Support Services service manager Lynda Townsend said their service has helped 305 people who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness, in the last six months.
Some 71 of them were single women, 56 were families and a wildly disproportionate 140 were Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander.
"Women and the Aboriginal community are absolutely significant overrepresented in the data that's coming through," she said.
Homelessness can be particularly catastrophic for children, Mrs Townsend said.
"We know that when we talk about child development, the more adverse events that a child is exposed to in their formative years of life, actually have a far greater impact on them," she said.
"Many of them are often ending up in the same situations as possibly their parents were, when the child was young.
"The disengaging from school, the lack of routine, the social structures that are so important for those kids, it's occurring right across the board and it is happening more and more."
Some people on Newstart are spending as much as 90 per cent of their government cheque paying rent, she said.
Both Mrs Townsend and Ms McKenzie said solving the problem would require a major new social housing construction program, plus services to treat the health and mental health costs of homelessness.
"If I had a magic wand, we need a significant investment in affordable housing," she said.
"It's not Tamworth only, it's a whole statewide problem. In essence, it's probably getting closer to a national crisis. There needs to be a significant investment into affordable housing for people that desperately need it."
Ms McKenzie credited the government's Together Home program for virtually eliminating primary homelessness in Tamworth.
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