Scores of homeless people in the Tweed Heads area should soon have access to a little care, support and understanding after Tweed Shire Council last night gave the green light to converting an old home at 9 Boyd Street into a daytime respite centre.
It will be the first such respite centre in the Tweed and will be operated by the well-known charity, St Vincent de Paul Society.
Tweed councillors overrode neighbours’ concerns that it was a ‘drop-in centre for people with self-inflicted problems’, as some described it, and voted 6–1 (Cr Gary Bagnall against) to approve the centre.
Cr Warren Polglase said the same argument that neighbours would lose amenity, suffer noise and loss of property value was used some time ago against a four-unit development to service Aboriginal needs 24 hours a day seven days a week, ‘but none of that actually happened’.
Cr Polglase said council had to balance the needs of the community with those living close by, and the charity was well versed to operate the centre as it ran 37 similar ones throughout NSW.
Up to 16 homeless people a day will be able to use the centre for a couple of hours under supervision from two full-time trained staff and a team of trained volunteers to help out.
Meals, storage, laundry and bathroom facilities, computer, internet and telephone will be available to them Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm and on weekends from 10am to 2pm.
The charity says the Tweed Heads area is ‘experiencing great housing stress, which contributes to the homeless population’ and that the facility would bring ‘human comfort to those without a home with the provision of essential services’.
During Tuesday’s community access meeting, Angus Whitherby, a spokesman for the charity, said St Vincent de Paul was aware the development had caused concerns and fears, but they were unfounded.
He said the project was important in that it provided a residential-style building and was ‘home-like not shop-like’.
‘This seeks to break the cycle of homelessness and to help people deal with the causes so they can re-enter a normal living environment,’ Mr Whitherby said.
You Have a Friend volunteer charity worker John Lee told councillors he was happy to spend time with concerned residents to dispel the ‘myths about homelessness’ in the Tweed, which he said had the highest growth in the number of homeless people in NSW.
Mr Lee said that contrary to what many people thought, most homeless people in the Tweed were not youth but aged between 30 and 70 years.
He said a ‘dear old lady’ aged 63 who was homeless had died four weeks ago, while a 53-year-old man who ‘hung around the church and other places’ died in July.
‘Others have committed suicide in their cars,’ he said.
Mr Lee said police used their ‘move on’ powers constantly against homeless people and toilets were locked at night, so they couldn’t use them.
‘They used to stay at Jack Evans Boat Harbour, but since the $2 million renovations, they’ve been moved on and no longer stay around there; they’re also moved on from bus shelters.
‘I’ve been asked to stop feeding people in the park because some locals said “we don’t want to attract them”. I nearly fell on the floor, but I’m not letting a 63-year-old die or watch them die,’ he said.
‘The centre would make these people feel human again, with services available to help them manage themselves.’
Mr Lee said people also felt ‘ownership’ of a place where they stayed and protected it from vandalism and picked up litter.