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Plea 'to people in high places' to transform building for homeless people

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There are repeated calls to turn a vacant council-owned building into an emergency shelter for homeless people.

The Fred Murray Building in Nambour has essentially been useless after Sunshine Coast Council staff members centralised to the new city hall at Maroochydore early last year.

A group of people sleeping rough converged on Nambour’s town square last month to raise awareness about homelessness and to appeal to levels of government and accommodation providers to utilise the facility on Currie Street.

One of them, Abigail, has since renewed calls to make the most of the building, after she endured several harrowing nights amid wet conditions.

“Am I just meant to pray that I do not get struck by lightning and that it doesn’t flood?” she asked.

Do you have an opinion to share? Submit a Letter to the Editor at Sunshine Coast News via news@sunshinecoastnews.com.au. You must include your name and suburb.

“If the council can build a $100 million building for themselves, I believe they should help.

“All I am asking is for them to give up an old building they do not even use anymore.”

Abigail and advocates supporting solutions for homeless people raised awareness at an event last month.

She said basic sleeping arrangements would do.

“Please stop thinking of a million-dollar homeless shelter: mattresses on the floor would suffice,” she said.

Abigail said summer storms had intensified the need for shelter.

“I am scared for my life in more ways than one,” she said.

“Words cannot express the toughness of our situation.

“Petrie Creek flooded recently and Chris, Jen, Taylor and Micky, Ollie and Matt had their camps washed away yet again.

“Winter is coming. We would love to have a stock of blankets, sleeping bags, swags and camping mattress.

“We have people in desperate need.

“We have the facilities. Now, all we need is people in high places to have the compassion to make it happen.”

One of the signs on display in Nambour’s town square recently.

David Law, who has lived in Nambour for 23 years and been the local councillor for the past four years, said homelessness was “a significant problem” around the greater region.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, from Caloundra to Coolum to Mooloolaba, the Sunshine Coast has got a large homeless population at the moment,” he said.

He estimated there was between 800 and 1400 people sleeping in tents, cars, parks, sand dunes, creek beds and at whatever temporary accommodation they could find.

Related stories: Dirty laundry a stark reminder of homeless crisis and Homeless outreach organiser shares insights from the frontline

Mr Law said the Fred Murray Building option could be explored further.

He said council was reviewing the facility’s potential and an inspection by building certifiers could help determine its future.

“One of the uses being investigated is some form of housing, whether it’s affordable housing, emergency shelter and/or overnight accommodation and services,” he said.

“That’s in the process of being worked out, and if council arrives at that position, then it would need support from the state Department of Housing to help fund it.

“Council does not provide housing solutions: that’s a matter for the state government.

“But council does work and collaborate closely with them, because we’re all trying to make a difference.”

Mr Law said there were several services that helped homeless people in the region, but “there isn’t anywhere that provides (regular) emergency shelter or an overnight drop-in where people can sleep for the night”.

“I think it would be an excellent idea to have a shelter that’s available for someone who suddenly finds themselves homeless, through no fault of their own,” he said.

The Fred Murray Building in Currie Street has been labelled a potential accommodation solution.

He said the Fred Murray Building could be considered, with an injection of funding to make it fit for purpose.

“If we get the reports from the building certifier worked through, then of course it would be a great idea,” he said.

“In terms of office space it is beyond what we need at council at the moment, so having the building used for that (shelter) would be extremely valuable.”

He said council would need to engage with the state government “because that’s where the funding would come from”.

“And we would need to find a suitable community housing agency to support us: a group like Coast2Bay or IFYS or Kyabra. There are a range of service operators who would be able to do what is needed, subject to being able to get the funding for operational services,” Mr Law said.

Mr Law was just behind Peter Walsh in the election vote count but he said if he was re-elected he would “push” to learn more about the potential of the Fred Murray Building.

“I would make sure we keep working on this project as quickly as we can,” he said.

A council spokesperson said public and private sectors needed to address homelessness, and significant investment would be required to make the Fred Murray Building suitable for emergency shelter.

“Homelessness is a situation that is difficult to quickly rectify,” they said.

“All tiers of government (local, state and federal) as well as the private sector – including relevant industry associations and peak bodies – and the community housing sector need to work together to effectively address the current situation,” the spokesperson said.

“The state and federal government are responsible for delivering community and social housing, which includes emergency accommodation.

“Council acknowledges housing affordability and homelessness is a significant, distressing and ongoing issue for people living on the Sunshine Coast and has held numerous meetings with those living with homelessness – including those in Nambour – to understand their plight and how we, as a council, may be able to help.

“Any changes in use from commercial offices need to be building compliant for the safety of occupants, which has to be our highest priority.

“Unfortunately, building certification advice is that, in their current state, buildings like Fred Murray in Nambour are not able to be used for emergency residential accommodation and would require significant investment to meet the change from its former use for commercial purposes.”

The Fred Murray Building in central Nambour.

The spokesperson said council had implemented a number of other initiatives to help address homelessness.

“We endorsed the Housing and Homelessness Action Plan, reinforcing council’s commitment to facilitating affordable and diverse housing options and to build our capacity to respond to homelessness and support community-led initiatives,” they said.

“We are providing identified community organisations, which deliver affordable housing on the Sunshine Coast, with a 100 per cent rebate on standard council infrastructure charges, until 2028.

“This rebate supports council’s Housing and Homelessness Action Plan 2023 and will support more housing, including separate housing, boarding and emergency facilities, to be delivered for those who needed it most.

“We continue to advocate to other levels of government for action to address housing availability, reduce homelessness and deliver more affordable housing choices.”

If you are experiencing homelessness or domestic and family violence you can call the Housing Service Centre on 5352 7333; Homeless Hotline on 1800 474 753; or DVConnect on 1800 811 811. The Sunshine Coast Housing and Homelessness Directory also contains details for organisations that are providing services to people experiencing homelessness.

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