Community agencies have highlighted the desperate plight of homeless people in Byron Shire.
‘We’ve seen a disturbing increase in people sleeping in their cars – a situation that has been exacerbated by the recent flood where people lost their vehicle and/or home and all their possessions including identification,’ said Julie Williams from the Mullumbimby and District Neighbourhood Centre (MDNC).
‘There is an increase in single women and women with children sleeping in cars or couch surfing, at times as a result of domestic violence.’
This was confirmed by Paul Spooner from the Byron Community Centre, who highlighted that there are also a lot of long-term homeless people sleeping rough.
‘Some people have been sleeping rough for 15 years and as people age they have increasing health needs – it is a very challenging path.’
The community centres in Mullumbimby and Byron provide a range of services to people who are struggling with making ends meet, including breakfasts and lunches serving between 50 and 100 meals a day.
Single mothers struggle to find affordable housing
‘At the neighbourhood centre people can access a mix of services and supports,’ continued Julie.
‘They can get a community meal, showers, community support, emergency relief, Staying Home Leaving Violence, Brighter Futures, financial counsellor, information and referral. The community support worker assists with material aid, assistance with housing applications (both emergency and social housing).
‘Both Community Support and Staying Home Leaving Violence will work with people who are at risk of homelessness owing to poverty, housing stress, domestic violence, non-compliant housing risks, mental health issues and so on.’
For people who are looking to get some food to cook a meal they can pick up free food-relief bags every Thursday 9–11am at The Hub Baptist Church, Ocean Shores.
‘We normally see anywhere from four to 16 people coming in each week. Some are regulars but most weeks we see new faces from all over the Shire,’ said volunteer Nighean O’Brien.
‘A lot of people are really struggling with housing affordability. It’s common that they have very little, if any, money left after they pay rent and bills for food and clothing. We’ve seen a number of men around the 30–40-year age mark living either in their cars in carparks or in tents up in the bush.
‘Single mums with kids are really struggling to pay $500 a week just to house their families. Many are struck down by illness, some related to the recent floods, and are unable to work.’
The face of homelessness
Byron Community Centre and Byron Writers Festival have come together to create a book titled No Fixed Abode to give a voice and a face to the many homeless people who struggle to find housing, food and stability. It will be launched at the Byron Writers Festival on Saturday August 5.
As well as shining a light on the experience of the homeless, all profit from sales of the book will go towards building services for the homeless community. The book is a not-for-profit project that has been made possible by contributors volunteering their professional skills, and through the support of the Byron Community Centre, Byron Writers Festival and private donors.
Mr Spooner said, ‘There are plenty of opportunities to help. ‘You can provide financial support to existing programs or volunteer your time through the community centre and programs like the homeless breakfast and Liberation Larder.’
There is currently an acute need for transition housing in the Shire and issues around where people sleep in wet weather. With four to six major wet-weather events a year the question is where do the people who are sleeping rough go. What facilities could be provided to help people make it through these periods?
And when you see homeless people on the street?
‘My approach,’ said Julie, ‘is just be a good human. No-one should be treated as though they don’t exist or aren’t important.
‘A smile, a little eye contact, a little human acknowledgement.’