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Employed, reliable and turning 60 - Barbara never thought she would be homeless

Barbara Dunlop has been locked out of the Bundaberg rental market due to high demand. (ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

Barbara Dunlop never thought she'd be homeless by the age of 60.

Working six days a week as a lifestyle mentor for people with a disability, Ms Dunlop has been a reliable tenant in Bundaberg in south-east Queensland for more than two decades.

But it's counted for nothing.

"I never imagined this in my life," she said.

Willing to pay $400 a week, Ms Dunlop has faced rejection after rejection over the last few months since her rental property was sold.

"I'm putting applications in, I'm giving them all the documents they need but I think it's because of my fur babies, I have two cats and two dogs," she said.

"I need them for my mental health because of the stress of my work as a carer."

Ms Dunlop represents the new face of homelessness not only in the Bundaberg region, but across the state, according to local support agencies, as full-time workers, families with children and university students struggle to find a roof over their heads.

Barbara Dunlop works 6-days-a-week as a lifestyle mentor for people living with a disability like Joan Jeffrey, but still can't find a property to rent. (ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

With fierce competition in the rental market and vacancy rates at record lows, Ms Dunlop feels applications that may include pets, children and young people are being beaten by applications that seem more desirable.

Helping those in need

The state member for Bundaberg, Tom Smith, said he knew too well what was happening in his community, as his office fielded calls from people desperate for help.

"We do not want to see children living in cars, living in tents or on the streets," Mr Smith said.

"If you are a family or know a family doing it tough, come into our office immediately.

"We have very good relationships with public housing and have been able to get families on head leasing and affordable accommodation as well."

Mr Smith admits he's worried the housing shortage could have further social ramifications in his electorate, such as poorer education levels in children and a lack of essential workers.

Build up, not out

The Bundaberg region is surrounded by lush, and very valuable, agricultural land and is known for its food production.

Member for Bundaberg Tom Smith asks regional Queenslanders to consider higher density living as a way of combating homelessness.  (ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

But as regions like it are squeezed by population growth, helped along by interstate migration, Mr Smith feels it's time for a change in attitude about how regional people live.

"We are going to have to consider high density blocks of units, especially when we have working people wanting to move to the region," Mr Smith said.

"We have to look at different things than we have in the past.

"We are a very suburban community, and we love that, but we need to encourage some private development to build up as well."

Tomas O'Malley is an architect who has worked in the Bundaberg region for the past 12 years.

Mr O'Malley agrees attitudes need to change in regional centres to facilitate growth, without affecting the surrounding environment, and bring income to councils.

"In regional areas, we have a lack of diversity of housing options. Most housing is detached homes on large blocks, which isn't necessarily suitable to the whole population and results in sprawling suburbs," he said.

"Many people hear density and immediately think of high-rises, but in regional cities we need to focus more on the "Missing Middle" — incremental increases in density that sit between low density suburban homes and high density apartments.

"This includes small-lot housing, townhouses, duplexes and terrace houses, all of which keep the low-rise, single family home character that people are comfortable with."

Mr O'Malley said increasing density had many societal benefits.

"[It] makes neighbourhoods more walkable, maintains our high value agricultural land and bush, and reduces the cost of roads, sewer and water provision, allowing more rates money to be spent on improving the community," he said.

'Not a quick fix'

The Queensland government is investing $2.9 billion in social and affordable housing, with 170 new homes planned in the Wide Bay Burnett region. (by when?)

Mr Smith said the housing crisis needed to be addressed by all tiers of government and the public sector.

Ms Dunlop said she couldn't wait much longer.

Barbara Dunlop is trying to stay hopeful about finding a home in the Bundaberg region. (ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

"It's not a quick fix," she said.

"I think the government and the politicians need to look at this rental crisis not just in Bundaberg, but all Australia.

"So many families are living in trailers, it's affecting the low-income workers."

In the meantime, Ms Dunlop is staying at a friend's house but hopes it'll be temporary.

"I've just got to take it day by day and keep on applying for rentals," she said.

"I keep the place clean, I'm reliable, I pay my rent, I'm a long-term tenant.

"I just need a bit of help, assistance, a fair go, the Australian way."