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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

A little shelter and comfort from the rain

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These beds make a welcome sight for homeless people who are escaping the rain. Photo supplied.

When the rain was coming down on Wednesday night did you spare a thought for those who didn’t have a warm and dry place to bed down? Well, neither did I but I am grateful to know that someone did.

The Byron Community Centre (BCC) held its second Wet Weather Shelter at the Uniting Church in Byron providing a space for nine people to escape the rain and have a dry and safe nights sleep last Wednesday June 26.

The pilot Wet Weather Shelter program was set up following Cyclone Debbie when it was realised that there was nowhere for homeless people to go during extreme wet weather events. The shelter ‘was established in 2018 and made possible through funding from Cunning Stunts’ Nudge Nudge Wink Wink fundraiser and the Harcourts Foundation,’ said rough sleepers project worker Elyssa Purdie.

Bookings for the shelter can be made on the morning at the Liberation Larder, Homeless Breakfast or at the BCC reception when there is significant prediction of rain.

‘We check the weather prediction for the day at 5am,’ Cherie Bromley, community programs manager at Byron Community Centre told Echonetdaily.

‘We have only 18 nights that we are funded to open so we had to be very strict around the parameters that would lead to the shelter being opened.’

Initially they set the parameter for opening the shelter at a forecast of 40mls of rain, however, they have since lowered the level to 30mls as the last time it was predicted for 30mls it actually rained 50mls.

‘The project is very straightforward,’ said Ms Purdie. ‘It aims to provide a safe and supportive solution for vulnerable community members who otherwise are being forced to shelter in shop alcoves or other private property. The project provides two separate shelters, one for women and one for men. There is bedding, food and drinks, dry clothing and basic material aid during the events. Trained community services staff, security and volunteers are overseeing the operation of each shelter’

Pilot program

This is a pilot program funded for one year to provide 18 nights of shelter from ‘severe’ wet weather with no ongoing funding past that point.

‘We are working with the churches and there are strict rules around using their facilities. They arrive at 6pm and are out by 8am in the morning. There are no drugs, alcohol or weapons allowed. The fact that people come and use the service really highlights the need for a wet weather shelter generally and a day drop in centre for the area,’ said Ms Bromley.

Large number of rough sleepers

According to the rough sleepers survey done in August last year there were 150 people sleeping rough.

‘This is an underestimation of the number of rough sleepers we have in the Byron Shire. We didn’t find everybody,’ said Ms Bromley.

‘Only 22 per cent were women but they are harder to find as they often approach managing homelessness differently to men. They tend to sleep in their cars or couch surf or find other ways, sometimes in unsafe circumstances, to manage their homelessness.’

The high number of rough sleepers in the region means that on a per capita basis Byron Shire has about six to seven times the national average of rough sleepers.

Volunteers for next count

The next rough sleeper count will be happening in about two weeks and they are currently looking for volunteers to join up for the two nights that it will take place over. The counts will be taking lace in Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads on August 6 and Byron Bay on August 7.

If you are interested in volunteering email: [email protected] or enquire at either the Byron Community Centre or Mullumbimby and District Neighbourhood Centre.

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  1. The more help the better ..great work to all involved.. full marks echo !!!! Homelessness is a huge concern ..and so it should be ..as the numbers suggest, not only, in the Byron Shire , but Australia wide ..worldwide…lets start more conversations regarding this crisis!!

  2. The women go to the presbyterian church which deserves mention as well. For years when it was wet and cold for a whole week I would ring Council and suggest the youth centre would be a great place just to open it up and let them doss down on gym mats or yoga mats, things that need to be hosed down regularly anyway, but I was told we can’t legally do that because there are no showers available, which at the time were available at the drop in centre in Fletcher Street. There was always red tape that stops something simple happening now I see those nice neat beds with sheets which is all very nice but it limits the number of people who can come in and everything has to cost something so I understand that the security guard has to be paid and of course the importance of getting them out in the morning on time for the use of the venue by other groups either at the YAC or the Uniting Church. So as Cherie from the Community Centre said, the funding is limited and will come to an end. Also there was a drop-in centre in Fletcher Street run by the Salvation Army and it was a great place in cold wet weather the homeless could stay there all day and it was very sociable and provided a sense of ownership, a sense of their ‘own place’ and had real coffee a washing machine and shower with towel provided and a book reading room with comfy lounge but the council put the rent up so it became unviable for the charity which was a cynical move because since that time there is no actual place other than the bus shelter, which is not appropriate, where they can gather.


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