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May 30, 2024

Byron homeless service to reopen

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The Fletcher Street Cottage will once again host services supporting local homeless people five years after the doors were closed to the community’s most vulnerable.

At last week’s full Council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to turn the cottage into a hub where local services will be co-located to allow for ease of access by the homeless.

Happier times: staff of The Cottage with then Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham and Community Centre GM Paul Spooner. Photo Salvos

The cottage was home to a homeless drop-in centre until March 2015 when the Salvation Army pulled the pin.

‘The hub will provide a central access point to services for people to get help with housing, mental health, physical health, as well as other basics such as to have a shower and do some washing,’ the general manager of the Byron Community Centre, Louise O’Connell, said.

‘Most so, and almost more importantly, it is a place to feel accepted, relax and find a listening ear for people who have nowhere else to go.’

‘The value of this to a vulnerable person is immeasurable.’

A report from Council staff included in the agenda to last week’s meeting said that the number of locals sleeping rough was disproportionately high.

The impact of the pandemic on individuals and the community is growing quickly, support services are limited in availability and cannot respond to the volume and complexity required to effectively reduce rough sleeping.

Council’s research had shown that such a hub needed to be located in the centre of town and that there were no other suitable sites in the Byron CBD other than the cottage.

As a result, Council terminated the lease of  the existing tenant, forcing them to find a new home and depriving Council’s coffers of more than $33,000 in rent per year.

The staff report also noted that the hub’s proposed location had drawn criticism from some local business owners who had complained about safety issues, anti-social behaviour as well as homelessness service provision being incongruous with the town’s ‘branding’ as a tourist destination.

The author of the report, Community and Cultural Development Coordinator Deborah Stafford noted pointedly that rough sleepers were ‘members of the community who cannot be discriminated against and have the right to share public spaces’.

She also noted that the impact of the hub would be reduced by the fact that it would offer structured services rather than acting primarily as a drop-in centre, as had previously been the case. In addition, Council had recently employed two Public Space Liason Officers to assist with issues such as anti-social behaviour and the increase in general foot traffic at the hub also meant that those inclined toward this behaviour would be less likely to engage in it, according to the report. Council will now offer a lease of up to three years for the cottage with an additional two-year extension option. 

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1 COMMENT

  1. What the bloody hell is happening with the Old Hospital Site the Shire owns.

    It has been ready to occupy for months and is a perfect place with the vast amenities it offers for the rough sleepers to use. Toilets , showers, offices, parking and security by being opposite the Police Stn.

    Also perfect for emergency accommodation for women in distress or needing a safe place from domestic violence.
    Sitting Idle for some pre conceived idea of Council no doubt.

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