Welcome and Safe at Fred's Place

Tuesday 5 October 2021

“Very often, when people come to us, they’ve tried everything else,” says Femke Romeijn, Team Leader of Homelessness and Housing at Fred’s Place in Tweed Heads.

“We tend to deal with people that are being excluded and not fit within the eligibility criteria and they just have nowhere to go and then they come here.

“And then we advocate really hard and really strong and quite regularly we get amazing outcomes,” she says.

Fred’s Place is a drop-in service for people experiencing homelessness and other kinds of disadvantage that sees 80-125 people arrive looking for help and serves up to 200 meals every day.

The area it serves has one of the fastest growing populations of people experiencing homelessness in NSW.

Between the 2011 and 2016 census, it grew by more than 75 per cent.

Of the 444 people in the local government area experiencing homelessness in 2016, nearly half were sleeping rough.

This is an extraordinary rate of primary homelessness given the state average is 7 per cent.

“We provide primary needs support. So, food, shower, laundry, and all the facilities for primary needs as well as providing a safe place to be for those who are vulnerable and in need.

“We provide case work support for anyone that is homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Femke says.

“At the moment, due to the current rental market, we are seeing a significant increase in families who have been pushed out of their rentals and who are staying in hotels and motels.

“The hotels and motels’ cost here has nearly doubled in the eight years that I’ve been here.

“So, a hotel room here for a family will cost about $850 a week.

“There’s just no rentals available and there are no affordable rentals available,” Femke says.

Fred’s Place itself is a renovated home with a fully staffed kitchen, storage and mailing facilities, and internet access.

Femke says she’s very excited because additional room has been made available as office space for the range of visiting services to Fred’s Place.

“We’ve got legal aid tenancy and advice; the needle and syringe program; we’ve got Centrelink; we’ve got the homeless health outreach team which consists of a psychiatrist, mental health nurse, mental health social worker and they come here three days a week.

“We have financial counsellors, the RSPCA comes here to support pets that people may have, the NDIS comes once a fortnight.

“A lot of the people we support see their pets as their family and we always say that we support anyone and their loved ones if in need.

“So, we also are able to provide petfood to the animals.

“We’ve got some connections with local vets who are willing to provide service free of charge or at very low cost for the local community as well.

“It is tricky because quite often having pets is a big barrier for people to gaining housing,” Femke says.

Femke says that of everything Fred’s Place does, there is one thing that stands out.

“When I speak with the people that we assist, they all say that they feel really welcome and safe and supported, and they can be who they are.

“Within the community, where wherever they go, there’s judgment and there’s no safe space to be – to be able to provide a place to just be yourself I think is the most amazing thing that we do here.”

Find out more about Fred’s Place