Local organisations are getting behind the project to help provide shelter to Byron’s homeless during extreme wet weather events by providing the Byron Community Centre with $12,000 in seed money.
The recent fundraiser at Billinudgel Hotels Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink run by the Cunning Stunts has been combined with $5,000 from donated from the Harcourts Foundation and a number of organisations and businesses, including both the Anglican and Uniting Church who have offered their halls as shelters, and St Vincent De Paul who have also committed $5000 to the project.
With the rate of homelessness in Byron Bay sitting at 12 times the NSW average and the percentage of rough sleepers seven times the state average (ABS 2011), it may come as a surprise to learn that funding to services addressing homelessness in the Byron Shire was drastically cut in 2015. This lead to the closure of the shire’s only homeless drop-in centre and emergency accommodation facility.
‘When the heavy rain sets in for a few days and the flooding starts, people used to at least find some reprieve at the Drop-In centre. Now there is nowhere for people who are sleeping rough to go for shelter, day or night. There is nowhere for them to store their belongings and nowhere to dry out,’ explained Shanti Des Fours, project coordinator.
Generally, these events aren’t serious enough to trigger formal State Government Emergency Evacuation Responses, but they have significant impacts on the growing number of people who are falling through the cracks in Byron Bay and winding up homeless.
‘It can be absolutely traumatising. People regularly lose everything they own in these events. They’re afraid, they’re in danger and they can be soaking wet for days on end,’ said Kristen Alexander, community services worker at the Byron Community Centre.
Instead of being forced to shelter in shop alcoves or other private property, the project will provide a safe and supportive solution for homeless people. It will provide two separate shelters, one for women and one for men. There will be bedding, food and drinks, dry clothing and basic material aid during the events. Trained community services staff, security and volunteers will oversee the operation of each shelter.
‘This project won’t solve homelessness, we know that,’ said Ms Des Fours.
‘But we need to work at all levels. Housing affordability and availability is at crisis point and unemployment rates are among the highest in the state, resolving these issues is vital to addressing homelessness in the Shire. But in the meantime, we also need to address the here and now; there are people in our community who need a safe place to sleep when it rains, it’s as simple as that.
To learn more about the project or to donate contact Shanti Des Fours at the Byron Community Centre 02 66 856 807.