The problem with Byron Council’s plan to ‘ban’ street camping is that the punitive, heavy-handed approach does little to resolve the very complex and growing problem of housing/accommodation affordability/availability, nor does it provide equity, fairness or social justice for those entrapped in Byron’s dilemma.
Even if Council is successful in removing campers from specified locations, street campers will simply move to other areas.
Both Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby already experience the influx of homeless/transient people during peak holiday periods, when patrolling intensifies in Byron.
It would be far more useful and cost effective for Council to provide accessible, convenient ‘overnight rest areas’ for van parking around the shire, instead of unleashing a campaign of harassment – targeting reactive young travellers in ‘wicked’ vans.
Council is well aware people are legally permitted ‘use of vehicles’ for sleeping along roadways. A BSC report states: ‘The proposed definition of “camping” and any enforcement flowing from it does not affect those persons who may sleep in their vehicles due to homelessness… (or) those persons who sleep in their vehicles to overcome the effects of illness, tiredness and/or intoxication’.
Council is entering a legal minefield in seeking to prohibit or regulate ‘the activity of camping’ along roadways. We’re told the Rangers Standard Operating Procedures lay out effective guidelines in a confidential (unseen and unchallenged) memorandum on street camping. This will enable Council rangers to ‘differentiate the act of sleeping in a motor vehicle from the activity of camping in a motor vehicle’ – and how to distinguish a homeless person from a holiday camper!
In reality we all know enforcing compliance will empower rangers and police to disrupt and intrude on people’s lifestyle choices in a very negative and detrimental way.
The ‘No Camping’ signs already in place include a whole range of ‘additional’ harmless activities that now require ‘permission’, significantly expanding enforcement powers, so anyone doing ‘any thing’ – including singing or playing a musical instrument – can be hassled on the whim of a ranger.
At street level it’s personal! A weekend in Byron could turn into a string of convictions for our more volatile visitors.
It is unfair and possibly illegal to single out ‘street campers’ for persecution when there are so few options for low-budget travellers in Byron Shire. Creating a network of overnight ‘rest areas’ around the shire, similar to RTA roadside stopovers (same rules apply), would be far more helpful and humane.
Michele Grant, Brunswick Heads, Community Care Council Inc