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.