Katherine’s facing a housing ‘crisis’. Advocates call for short-stay center to ease issues

People from some of the Northern Territory’s most remote communities who are forced to travel hours to access critical hospital treatment and surgery in Katherine are sleeping rough in parks and on the banks of the river, NT Shelter executive officer Peter McMillan says.

“It’s outrageous that if you’re coming to town to see a doctor or go to hospital that you have to sleep on concrete or sleep in an abandoned building or down by the river because there is now safe, or affordable or appropriate to stay, “Mr McMillan said.

All major jurisdictions in the Northern Territory have established short-stay accommodation centers for remote visitors to stay at times of need.

Yet Katherine, which has a small hospital, one supermarket and some justice services that serve a region almost the size of Japan, remains without one.

“Katherine has 31 times the national rate of homelessness across Australia, it’s quite a staggering figure,” Mr McMillan said.

‘We can do better’

Every morning some of the town’s homeless population visit Katherine’s only drop-in center, the Doorways Hub, for breakfast, a cup of tea, a shower and to wash their clothes.

But after lunch, when the hub’s doors are close, options for a safe place to go are limited, and dinner for those who cannot afford it is off the table.

In a place where support services are almost always at capacity – the Doorways Hub is a lifeline, and the morning queue usually snakes out the door.

A 2020 survey of that queue found that of those visiting from a remote community for medical help, 94 per cent did not have a place to stay that night, Mr McMillan said.

A man sitting in a boardroom looks down at some documents with a slight look of concern.
Peter McMillan says people are sleeping rough to access medical care in Katherine.(Supplied)

“Katherine is such an important regional hub for people coming to town from outlying communities,” he said.

“Can you imagine if you were taking your family to Katherine to see the doctor, but you had to sleep on the ground?

“We can do better.”

Dialysis patients sleeping in tents

Long-term Northern Territory doctor and Australian National University (ANU) academic Simon Quilty said Katherine’s accommodation crisis had become well known and people were missing critical appointments to avoid facing a night’s sleep rough.

“It’s so much worse than anywhere else in Australia,” Dr Quilty said.

“There are people with severe health problems like kidney failure sleeping in tents, young people with palliative care needs with no chance of finding a safe place to call home before their short lives come to an end.”

A man sits at a computer in his house.
Simon Quilty says people are missing critical medical appointments because they don’t have anywhere safe to sleep.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

NT Shelter and 18 organizations are jointly calling on the NT government ahead of its 2022-23 budget to commit funding to the development of a visitor accommodation center in Katherine.

They are also asking all major parties contesting the 2022 federal election to step up.

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