By early June in Narooma on the New South Wales far south coast, the campgrounds around town are all but deserted.
The nights have been bitterly cold and the atmosphere is bleak, but not everyone who is still camping is there by choice.
Eighteen-year old Samantha and 24-year-old David have been living in a tent for two months after exhausting all their other accommodation options, from staying with family and friends, renting a motel room, and sleeping in their car.
“We picked the wrong month to go camping,” David joked as he put the kettle on a small butane stove.
“But at least it’s nice and quiet. There’s nearly nobody here.”
The couple have been looking for a place to rent since they moved out of home two years ago.
“We’ve been into the real estates and filled out applications, we’ve also posted on buy, swap and sell pages, and Gumtree,” Samantha said.
“Because we haven’t ever rented before, we don’t have any rental references, and we’ve also been rejected because of our ages.”
David has been completing the final year of his apprenticeship as a floor finisher, laying carpet, floating floors and vinyl flooring.
While he is working, Samantha has been staying at the tent with their two dogs Storm and Soxie or taking them into town.
“I get a bit scared by myself in the bush, even though I’ve got the dogs,” she said.
“We’ve been asked to move from a few spots now, and that’s scary too.
“We’re homeless as it is, and there are so many spots where we’re not allowed to camp. We’ve got nowhere to go — it sucks.”
Samantha got their first dog, Storm, three years ago after she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
“She’s always with me, I’m never without her,” she said.
“I’d rather be homeless than without my dogs.”
Simon Kuestenmacher is the co-founder and director of research at The Demographics Group.
He said Narooma fits the classic population profile of a regional area where most young people move away from home to take advantage of education and employment opportunities in the city and larger regional centres.
But for young people who are struggling to establish themselves in their home towns, many are forced out by the lack of affordable rental accommodation.
“In Narooma, the population is steadily growing, with around 200 people per year moving to the area each year,” Mr Kuestenmacher said.
“But the private rental market is shrinking.
“If an area grows at a humble pace, it doesn’t make financial sense to buy a property to rent out, especially at the lower end of the spectrum.
“People that can afford to buy an investment property are better off putting their money into something else.”
Krystal Tritton, coordinator of Anglicare’s Homelessness Support Service in the Eurobodalla, said it was near impossible for a couple on a low income to find a private rental in Narooma or surrounding towns.
For some people, their best option has been to move out of the region.
“That’s really difficult for someone who has been lucky enough to secure an apprenticeship or has a connection to country or family, or any of those things that tie us to community,” Ms Tritton said.
“We’re seeing our youth that went through our high schools, people who’ve been here for three or four generations. And the sadness you feel when you have to send someone outside their community, it’s pretty overwhelming.”
This financial year, Anglicare has assisted more than 650 people in the Eurobodalla Shire who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and staff have currently been helping 180 clients.
There are many more people out there who haven’t sought help.
Samantha, who has been studying for a Certificate III in Business and looking for work, said most people in town were “pretty much oblivious” to the rising tide of homelessness.
“Everyone looks down on you, like you’re bringing this on yourself. You walk around town, and feel sort of useless, to an extent,” she said.
“We have to stay in this area until David finishes his apprenticeship, that’s the only thing that’s keeping us here.
“I’ve been in Narooma my whole life. It’s a beautiful town, it’ll always be my home, but there’s nothing here.”
For now, the couple has been focussed on getting through winter, and not giving up on finding a home to rent.
“Soon, hopefully we’ll get a house, we’ll have a roof over our heads and I can keep working, then we can keep moving up from there,” David said.
“If we can get into a single rental, then get a good 12 months’ rental history, we can move on.”
“For the moment, home is this, this tent. But it’s hard to call it home.”
This article first appeared in ABC South East NSW