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Byron Shire
May 13, 2021

Rapid rise in rough-sleepers in Byron

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Once again Byron Shire has the highest number of people who sleep rough per capita in NSW outside of Sydney, according to this year’s count. The number of rough-sleepers rose by 18 per cent from last year’s count, highlighting the need to look further at how the issues of homelessness and mental health are addressed.

‘We need adequate services to assist people sleeping rough, who do so for a variety of reasons,’ said Ballina MP Tamara Smith.

‘We know that limited mental-health services, sparse free drug-and alcohol-support services and lack of public transport all compound the issue. Police tell me that sometimes it is as simple as needing to buy someone a bus ticket so they can return to their permanent home.’

According to Byron Community Centre and Byron Shire Council, both of which assisted in conducting the rough-sleepers survey, permanent housing and outreach services are the key to helping people transition away from homelessness.

‘A new hub in Byron Bay would be really valuable,’ said a Council spokesperson. ‘Most importantly, it would need to provide services that can support people to transition out of rough sleeping and into housing.

‘The Mullumbimby District Neighbourhood Centre also provides support for people sleeping rough but could really benefit from more funded services.’ 

Tip of the iceberg

‘The visible homeless are only the tip of the iceberg and the growing demographic for homelessness are women and people over 55,’ said Laili Corrigan from the Byron Community Centre.

‘Stereotypes and ignorance can hinder the development of services such as a drop-in centre. Homelessness is complex and is experienced by people from all walks of life.

‘The rising rates of homelessness nationwide reflect the lowering rates of affordable housing and secure, long-term employment as well as massive funding cuts to the community services sector,’ she said.

Projects like the Severe Weather Shelter Project are important steps but there are significant gaps that need to be filled to help people transition out of homelessness. Drop-in centres, like the one that closed in Byron Bay in 2015, are needed, said Ms Corrigan.

‘Drop-in centres are also known as access centres because they provide access to crucial services that support pathways out of homelessness. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation, housing assistance, employment assistance, counselling, and health are just some of the services a drop-in centre can connect people with that can make a huge impact to their lives.’

Ms Smith said there are numerous programs that have been leading the way in tackling homelessness.

‘A social support team on the ground like they have in San Francisco and sanctuary cities in the United States, and like the recent program trial around Central Station in Sydney, is what we require to really make a difference,’ she said.

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  1. There is a lot of evidence that it is cheaper to house people permanently than to force them to sleep on the street. Regrettably Byron Shire voted Green in the NSW election and therefore we will get no funds from the state government to address this or any other pressing issue. Instead we are being saturated with police whose sole purpose is to suck $100,000’s out of the shire everyday in fines, money that is funnelled to Sydney and spent on Liberal Party electorates.

  2. As long as there is no affordable rental housing in this Shire and the Northern Rivers, the homeless will increase. If you don’t own property, and don’t have a high paying job, being homeless is very close. Especially for women. I’ve been there, but I had friends with verandahs. At Brunswick Heads there are at least a dozen camps in the area south of the surf club. There are usually 2 or 3 vans and cars, driven in behind the tennis court, crashing through all the coastal regeneration done by the Chemical Free Landcare group. There is a generator, spread out messy camps with rubbish all around, a group there with several dogs, unrestricted, running wild, one female with puppies, bull mastiff-cross dogs. I used to see wallabies, goannas, echidnas, goannas, and blue tongue lizards etc in that area, but none for the last couple of years. They have campfires. There were 3 burning last night.. [isn’t there a total fire ban?] Last year the semi-permanent group deliberately lit a fire over an acre or so of our regenerating bushland. They destroy trees and use up what should be mulching material for regenerating trees, for the fires. One bloke, the camp with golf clubs, has twice cleared an area of land for his golf driving range. I have been threatened and followed on my regular walks in that area by ‘scary guys’. Most have drug/ alcohol/mental health problems. They abandon camps, tents, sleeping bags and rubbish, come and go. The Chemical Free Landcare group drag out bags of rubbish and abandoned bedding and tents every fortnight. The Council, the police, National Parks and Wildlife, and Crown Lands abrogate responsibility because..I don’t really know, I guess it’s in the too-hard basket. They control different areas. Byron Shire Council does take the rubbish away, but they do not have enough staff to do anything about the the dogs, campfires, at night. The police will only come if you are actually attacked..by then it may be a bit late.. [#MeToo]. Crown Lands are deaf, blind and invisible. National Parks control the area past the end of dog walking area. Housing is a basic human issue and should be a human right in this apparently wealthy country. It’s time for some new models for low-cost, community housing.


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