Around 150 locals were found to be sleeping rough on the streets of the Byron Shire during a homeless headcount this week, highlighting the need for more crisis accommodation and support services in the area.
The headcount was conducted by around 20 volunteers – including council compliance staff – on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at known homeless hotspots in Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads.
Led by Byron Community Centre Manager, Paul Spooner, the group found rough sleepers living in a range of conditions across the three areas.
This included people sleeping in cars, clustered together in public parks, huddled in shop doorways and camping in the bush.
‘There was a disabled guy sleeping on the ground with a piece of cardboard around him for warmth, and another in the alcove of a bank in town,’ Mr Spooner said of his observations in Byron Bay.
‘Then there was a whole crew of people in railway park. A few of them had old mattresses and a few blankets.
‘Once you get out into the bush near Bruns and Mullum you see more people in tents.’
Mr Spooner said that when the statistics were considered in light of the broader ABS figures for homelessness in the region an interesting picture emerged.
‘Drilling down a bit more, the national average for rough sleeping is seven per cent of the homeless population,’ he said.
‘In Byron what we’re seeing is that we’re up around 40-50 of our homeless are sleeping rough, as opposed to couch surfing or sleeping in refuges. That means we’re six to seven times the national average when it comes to sleeping rough.’
Mr Spooner said the headcount demonstrated the need for more frontline services and crisis accommodation.
‘I think it demonstrates that we really do need to do something about this problem,’ he said.
‘Yes we need more affordable housing stock in the region, but we also need the services at the coal face to assist those people who are right on the edge or already over it.’