I agree with Nicki Yazdi (Byron youth homelessness not a ‘gypsy lifestyle’) when she says there is little to romanticise about for those experiencing homelessness in Byron Bay.
Homelessness is often a result of a number of complex issues, which are easily misunderstood. The stigma attached to being identified as ‘homeless people’ or ‘the homeless’ only serves to compound the problems faced by those experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness is an experience, often short-term and not a life sentence. Recognising this, and that the person comes before the situation needs to be part of any solutions.
The closure of The Cottage has only made it harder for rough sleepers in Byron BAy and the Byron Community Centre bears witness daily to the plight of people unfortunate enough to find themselves experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness has many forms, and rough sleepers make up only a small proportion of Byron’s total homeless population. The ‘hidden homeless’ are sleeping in cars or on a friend’s couch not really knowing where they will be staying from one night to the next.
Many of us are just three bad decisions away from experiencing homelessness. Indeed, in Byron Bay the social fabric that protects us from this experience – family, social inclusion, affordable housing and access to social services – can be thin on the ground for many, making it easier for people to fall through the cracks.
Food lifeline services such as Liberation Larder and the Homeless Breakfast are experiencing ever-increasing demand and feed around 300 people every week in Byron Bay. Frozen meals, swags and personal care items are handed out daily over the counter of the Community Centre. Last year we serviced over 1,200 people through the BCC Support Service. The need is great and as government funding dries up it falls back to self-funded community organisations to support the most vulnerable.
Homelessness is a national issue that needs to be dealt with at a community level. In response to the dramatic increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, the Community Centre set up Housing Hub late last year. Co-locating support services for domestic violence victims and people seeking social housing. The problems are complex and not easily solved. Sometimes we just need to provide basic support to those in need.
Whilst many good people volunteer their time to assist those in need, unfortunately, a NIMBY attitude towards potential solutions is widespread. Only recently, the Byron Community Centre attempted to facilitate weekly showers for people experiencing homelessness utilising the currently vacant Girl Guides Hall at the Rec Grounds. Local residents and personal trainers who use the park objected and the proposal fell over.
The Community Centre is now exploring setting up a mobile shower and laundry solution that could service the wider region and has been working in partnership with One Voice and Orange Sky, recent recipients of the Young Australians of the year award, who have successfully setup a similar service in Brisbane. The showers could potentially be hired out to festivals, weddings and also utilised during natural disasters.
We need to get creative about funding and providing community services in our town. The traditional approach has just been to throw money at it. Let’s create a program. Let’s hire a bunch of social workers and we will write vouchers for housing or for meals. But this approach doesn’t really consider the individual, it considers only the demographic and this is part of the reason it fails.
The BCC is planning to launch a Conscious Coffee Cart this year. Women who are experiencing homelessness (women make up 42 per cent) will have the opportunity to get training and job experience working within the hospitality industry. Its not enough to just find a person experiencing homelessness a home, they need to be reconnected into their community.
The BCC with the support of our generous community is actively attempting to address the myriad of issues faced by those experiencing homelessness in Byron Bay. It is important people experiencing homelessness are supported to address the range of issues contributing to their homelessness and this requires an integrated approach.
We need our leaders to be bold enough to address the wider issues that underpin the problem and it’s important that we band together as a community to come up with solutions at a local level that addresses both short and long term needs. Without this strong community support, homelessness will not be considered a serious enough problem to necessitate an urgent, coordinated response.
If you would like to support or get involved in any of the solutions currently being pursued by the BCC, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Cat Seddon, team leader, community services, Byron Community Centre