31 January 2024

Griffith’s ‘Local Hero’ shines a light on town's homelessness crisis

| Oliver Jacques
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award recipient flanked by woman and man

Local Hero Award winner Sophie Bozic is flanked by Australia Day Ambassador Susanne Gervay OAM and Griffith Mayor Doug Curran. Photo: Supplied.

The simple act of helping a woman fleeing domestic violence find shelter has contributed to Sophie Bozic being named Griffith’s ”Local Hero” for 2023 at the city council’s Australia Day awards, which recognise outstanding community contributions.

The 28-year-old, who works as a student support officer for Western Riverina Community College, invests much of her spare time helping those overcoming poverty – rallying support and donations through social media.

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In February 2023, a viral open letter she posted on Facebook detailing her experience helping a woman fleeing domestic violence cast the spotlight on Griffith’s housing crisis.

“A mum came to our work telling me she wanted to do one of our courses,” Ms Bozic said. “Her oldest son was telling me this story about how a man used to hit him. I thought he was talking about a video game, but his mum told me he was talking about her life.

“The mother opened up about escaping domestic violence and how she and her family were now living in her car. I thought, ‘I can’t let you go back to live in your car’.

“We found her some accommodation. She went to Narrandera but couldn’t get in, then back to Griffith. She got sent to Wagga where they told her they were full.

”She was then told the closest refuge was in South Australia. She drove all the way there and was told it was full too and had to go all the way back. There’s just no immediate housing for people.”

award recipient with her family

Sophie with her husband Daniel Bozic and children Eleanor and Amalia. Photo: Supplied.

A 2019 study commissioned by the council revealed that 10 per cent of Griffith’s population was homeless. At present, more than 99 per cent of all rental stock is occupied, so large numbers compete for a handful of available dwellings.

Ms Bozic says the experience of helping someone desperate for accommodation opened her eyes to the number of people struggling in a town that is not as affluent as often portrayed. She now regularly takes to Facebook to canvass for donations and other support to help those in need.

“When I hear of parents struggling to feed kids the same age as mine, it breaks my heart,” she said.

“I’m just a mum who reaches out for help. It’s the Griffith community that kicks in and donates things like fruit and back-to-school vouchers. Businesses like Rombola Family Farms and Surana Enterprises have supported us.”

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Originally from Leeton and adopted from South Korea, Ms Bozic’s generosity was shaped by her life experience.

“I ended up in a loving family in a supportive home. That’s what everyone deserves.”

The mother of two toddlers, she also runs a support group for mums and bubs.

“As a mum myself, I realised the importance of having the support of other mums. We have 1000 in our group. Mums can join our page and ask for advice and when they’ve had their baby I add them to a group where they can meet up on a regular basis.

“Nobody should be ashamed to ask for help, and we can all play our part … kindness has a ripple effect.”

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