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Byron Shire
January 25, 2021

Editorial: A fundamental human need

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Eve Jeffery, guest editor

Though the days are warm, the nights are still very cold and will be for a couple of months to come.

For people sleeping rough, this is a really hard time of year and services for the homeless and needy are stretched to their limits.

The problem of homelessness is not getting any closer to being solved; in fact the opposite is the case and it’s difficult to accurately gather statistics because of the nature of homelessness.

The Northern Rivers and North Coast Community Housing’s Housing Needs Northern Rivers Housing Study 2018 says that beneath the brochure images of Byron Bay surfers and the alternative lifestyle of Nimbin lie some of the most challenging housing conditions.

The report says that local factors contributing to homelessness include the growing gap between rising housing costs and incomes, which is not unique to the Northern Rivers.

However, special local characteristics have accentuated the problem: Sea-change and tree-change migration has increased demand for well-located housing, often in the form of holiday homes that are only occupied for part of the year; economic prosperity and population growth over the border in southeast Queensland have made the Northern Rivers more attractive, accessible, and affordable to more people – these trends are accentuated by the long-overdue upgrade of the Pacific Highway – unfortunately significant investment in road infrastructure has far exceeded investment in community and social services.

Other issues are coastal resorts, which are a continuing mecca for backpackers, families, and grey nomads. This has led to a loss of caravan parks offering affordable longer-term accommodation, and the rise of the Airbnb and Stayz holiday-lets. Fast-rising property costs have not been met by a commensurate rise in incomes.

The highest household incomes are found in Ballina, Byron, Lismore, and Tweed council areas, though they are still generally 35 per cent lower than the NSW average.

Household income across in the more inland areas of Clarence Valley, Kyogle, and Lismore council areas has risen between 2011 and 2016 at a slower rate than the NSW average.

Nearly all areas in the Northern Rivers have some households on a very low income, defined as under $650 per week. The most challenged areas of inland Kyogle and Clarence Valley Council areas have up to 40 per cent of households on very low incomes, compared to an average of below 20 per cent across NSW.

The report says all Northern Rivers council areas have below the NSW average of higher earners, those with household incomes over $3,000 per week. Even in relatively prosperous Byron Shire fewer than 10 per cent of households are classed as higher earners, less than half the average in NSW low incomes.

Additionally poor intra-region transport, isolation, and limited supply of social and support services has led to many in the Northern Rivers facing many challenges.

There is a real concern that there is an erosion of community and connection when there’s just no room. Literally and figuratively, people to have the right to shelter.

For more information about how you can help, contact the Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre, the Byron Community Centre, the Salvos, or Vinnies.

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  1. The old Woolworths building in Byron Bayl looks lonely and decidedly empty, even though the lights are on. Each time I pass, I think “wouldn’t it be a kind gesture ( and great PR! ) for the owners to open it at night to the homeless for shelter from the cold and windy winter nights. It is going to be pulled down eventually, but meanwhile I’m sure it would provide comfort and safety for some of our community.

  2. Yes i concur Dian …that building would be ideal for the less fortunate, homeless, and domestic violence victim’s… byron bay , and for that matter the shire, really is unaffordable… to buy and especially to rent . But whats the solution? Its only going to get worse, and the fact is families should consider moving to country areas to live or rent where it is affordable. ownership, and rents are rising each year . And the welfare payments hardly cover rent alone !! Contact your local members, and federal.. to do more , one idea i feel would get support, would be the introduction of a levy to all working Australians to mitigate this crisis!! Iam sure the workers, would not mind if they were taxed five dollars a week for a worthwhile cause ..anyway keep up the good work Echo !! Great article Eve !! The shire is full of compassion , and empathy for the homeless.. ?

  3. A legal right is an interest acknowledged and protected by law. Australians have no such right to a home.
    Therefore we have homelessness.
    The solution seems to me too obvious to state.


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