Raymond Roberts fled to Katherine from his island home after becoming concerned for his safety only to find there was nowhere to live.
He was advised his public housing could be transferred from Groote Eylandt to Katherine, but after arriving learned he had joined the end of a long waiting list.
The advice he's now received is it could be six years before he has his own roof over his head again.
"At first we moved in with my wife's family, but the overcrowding makes things difficult," he said.
"We had some disagreements over money, and it became clear we were at risk of harm.
"So now we're in the long grass, our camp is good but people do still fall ill there sometimes.
'We bought a tent and that is our home now, but with a good camp we are still better off than many others," Mr Roberts said.
Over the last few years Alice Springs, Darwin and Tennant Creek have received priority for 'visitor's' centre facilities catering to people visiting town for medical, cultural or family reasons.
Yet with the NT's highest homelessness rate at 31 times the national average, Katherine is now left as the only regional hub in the NT without such a service either in place or with plans on the table.
Now, 19 of Katherine's lead organisations across medicine, business, local government and social services have joined voices in an ardent plea for 'immediate action'.
"The people of the Katherine Big Rivers region are no less deserving of a culturally appropriate, safe, and affordable place for visitors to stay when coming to town," a spokesman for the organisations said.
"Short stay visitor accommodation is vital in providing a safe, affordable and appropriate place to stay for those visiting town to access health services, or for cultural, sporting or family reasons.
"The costs of homelessness, including frequent presentations at Katherine emergency department are high. It makes good economic sense to provide safe and secure visitor accommodation.
"But most importantly, it's the right thing to do," they said.
The health impact of homelessness is central to the case for visitor accommodation in town.
According to a survey performed by the Salvation Army's Doorways Hub, 94% of people in town for a medical appointment were being forced to sleep rough.
As described by Australian Medical Association (NT) Dr Robert Parker, "people travelling to Katherine for medical treatment should not have to sleep by the riverbed".
"Frequent attendees at the Katherine Hospital emergency department are 16 times more likely to be homeless than not," he said.
"The lack of appropriate short stay accommodation in Katherine results in increased pressure on the hospital and exorbitant cost to the public health system, preventable if people are housed," Dr Parker said.
Many of the social issues plaguing Katherine are widely held to be either stemming from or exacerbated by homelessness.
Important letters go unread, diet suffers and the risk of emotional or physical abuse rises significantly when a person is forced to sleep rough.
Kalano Community Association CEO Bill Headley says a focus upon homelessness would therefore 'go a long way' towards remedying the various acute harms faced in our region.
"Short Stay accommodation will go a long way towards helping the whole Big Rivers community," he said.
"The people of the Katherine Big Rivers region require a culturally appropriate, safe, and affordable place to stay when coming to town.
"We are calling on all parties to work with local organisations to put this right once and for all," Mr Headley said.
This emphasis on an impact for the whole Big Rivers region from a service in Katherine was also at the forefront of Katherine Town Council Mayor Fay Miller's mind as she added her voice to the joint statement.
"With a service footprint the size of Tasmania and Victoria combined, Katherine is a major regional hub," she said.
"Yet it does not have short stay accommodation infrastructure in place needed to cater for Aboriginal visitors coming to town from outlying communities.
"We need a commitment from an incoming Northern Territory Government to step in and ensure Territorians coming to or residing in the Katherine region have access to the same services on offer as Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek," Mayor Miller said.
The 19 organisations participating in the call to government are Kalano Community Association, Katherine Town Council, Chamber of Commerce Northern Territory, the Australian Medical Association (NT), Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service, Binjari Community Aboriginal Corporation, Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT), Anglicare NT, Banatjarl Strongbala Wimun Group, CatholicCare NT, Jesuit Social Services, Katherine Women's Crisis Centre, Mission Australia, Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), The Salvation Army, Save the Children, Somerville Community Services, TeamHealth, and NT Shelter.
With a Territory election on our doorstep and a hotly contested race in Katherine in particular, the Katherine Times has now presented this united plea to all three local candidates for the upcoming NT Election for a response.
More to come.
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