GRAEME England was in tears at the Hunter Homeless Connect day last year as he told of sleeping rough and being estranged from his family.
Mr England, or ‘‘Wombat’’, as he is better known, was on Tuesday one of 900 or more homeless people who flocked to the PCYC in Broadmeadow to access the one-stop-shop event for free services and supplies.
But this year he had a happier story to tell.
‘‘If I hadn’t come here last year I wouldn’t be here to talk about what I’ve been through,’’ Mr England said, waving a laminated copy of the newspaper clipping with his story as it appeared in the Newcastle Herald.
‘‘I was sleeping out, sleeping at old churches and they got me housing at Beresfield,’’ he said.
Mr England may be temporarily couch surfing, but in a few months he will move into a flat in Taree, organised by Compass Housing.
He is now in regular contact with his sons and has accessed counselling to sort out his issues so he can reconnect with his partner.
‘‘It’s overwhelming to come here,’’ Mr England said. ‘‘Everyone comes together ... it brings a smile to your face.’’
Organiser Lucy Andrews said it was that sense of community that brought many people to the event. The big day out for the region’s homeless people combines entertainment, hot meals and give-aways with access to legal and financial services, health check-ups, haircuts and podiatry.
‘‘It’s about people being with others who are in the same situation, and also access to the services,’’ she said.
Crowds had been expected after more than 700 people queued outside a similar event in Sydney.
However, numbers were on par with previous years, Ms Andrews said.
Barbie left with a fresh hair cut and a bag of goodies for herself and her cat, Kitcha.
But it was the connection with others that really lifted her spirits.
‘‘It’s been the best day ... I just want to stay here inside the gate,’’ she said.
‘‘Today I connected with people who are just like me. I thought I was the only one.’’