Tambikos Driss and his daughter Grace sleep all year round in the tropical heat of the Northern Territory, besides large industrial fans to save on power.
The single father now limits the days he uses the washing machine, and has stopped cooking food in the oven to keep the bills down.
“Last night I didn’t go to sleep, I sat up all night thinking, how am I going to manage this fortnight,” he said.
Soaring inflation is pushing the cost of living up across the country, with warnings prices will get worse before they get better.
Consumer prices rose 6.1 per cent for the year to June this week, and another interest rate decision is expected on Tuesday.
Mr Driss, who lives in public housing in Palmerston, outside Darwin, said eating meat was now “out of the question”, and he’s buying frozen vegetables to keep his grocery bill down.
“I have my power bill to pay… my groceries, I have a car registration to come,” he said.
“It’s always a worry you know, [thinking]am I going to have enough next week and if I don’t have enough, where do I go?
Mr Driss knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom – at his lowest point he had a stint in prison, after taking drugs and sleeping rough on the streets.
But after turning his life around, and now looking after his daughter who has special needs, he never imagined life “on the right side” would be so hard to keep the lights on and the fridge full.
He called himself a “proud man”, but had been left with no choice but to take offers of free pantry items, like pasta and rice, from a local charity to fill the gaps.
“All I see in the supermarkets is just the prices going up, at some stage people won’t be able to buy,” he said.
Charities hit with a storm of new faces in trouble
Beneath a dark shopping center car park in Darwin’s north, the city’s homeless meet for a hot coffee at the break of dawn each week.
The event is organized by Jamie-Leigh Barnard, who manages the Doorways Program with the Salvation Army in the Northern Territory.
“A lot of our clients are feeling hopeless,” she said.
“They are feeling that there isn’t a way out this current climate and that they are drowning and there isn’t a rescue boat anywhere in sight.”
Working at the coalface of homelessness in the Northern Territory for six years, Ms Barnard said 2022 has been the worst year yet.
She blamed the rising cost of living for pushing more people out of communities onto the street.
“In the last month we’ve seen a 72 per cent increase in the number of clients that have attended our sites in Darwin city, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” she said.
Ms Barnard said the price of food in remote communities was “insane” and not sustainable.
“I had a friend who recently went to the Tiwi Islands and a tin of baby formula cost $60.
“So people come into Darwin wanting to get formula, blankets and clothing at a cheaper cost but then they get stuck.”
Adding to the pressure is the decision by some electricity retailers to end COVID-19 moratoriums on overdue bills.
“We’ve seen clients attend our centers with [power] bills of upwards to $5000, and the payment facilities on those bills are exorbitant,” Ms Barnard said.
“We have clients that are at risk of electricity disconnection, eviction, they’re at risk of homelessness … we do all we can but it’s a dire situation.”
Ready to pitch a tent with nowhere to go
Further south in Katherine, Leah Burch and her partner Darrell Lee have been in a race to find a rental property within their budget.
The couple have months to move out of the home they’ve lived in for six years because the owner wants to renovate.
But finding another rental, let alone one that’s affordable, has been near impossible, and the stress has taken its toll.
The couple is preparing for the worst.
“I’m even considering moving into a caravan park and setting up our tent to live in, that’s the way I look at the market at the moment,” Mr Lee said.
Despite the pressure, they still call themselves the “lucky ones” to have secure employment and each other, and don’t know how others on lower incomes are getting by.
“It’s horrible, terrible… the amount of money that people are paying just to have a roof over their head,” Ms Burch said.
“The ones that are lucky enough to be able to afford the rent, it’s enjoyable for them, but you feel for the ones that can’t.”