Locals have reported that there are increasing numbers of campers at Scarrabellotti’s Lookout on Coolamon Scenic Drive near Byron Bay.
‘From a public health point of view, this situation is very worrying as Byron Bay is now a known hotspot of concern for COVID-19. Having uncontrolled access for campers and backpackers at the lookout means the virus could easily be spread due to lack of social distancing I have witnessed,’ said Anthony Stante who lives near the lookout.
‘These people have limited washing facilities, are using the scrub for toilet facilities and then driving back and forth to town to get supplies and mixing with locals in supermarkets etc.’
Similar scenarios have been reported in areas around Broken Head and Brunswick Heads.
Nowhere to go
When Mr Stante spoke to some of the campers they said they were desperate and had nowhere else to go.
For many people who are travellers, backpackers, or are homeless finding a safe place to be during the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult at best.
‘We have taken in Uncle Yado from Murwillumbah for the time we are in isolation,’ said Mullumbimby locals Murray Dreschler and Daya Pepper.
Uncle Yado was homeless and had called Murray and Daya to ask for support and a place to be during the pandemic; but not everyone has someone to ask for help.
‘It is not just about compassion, it is our duty to help people,’ Daya told Echonetdaily.
Murray agreed saying, ‘The first sign of a civilisation was the discovery of a femur bone that had been healed. That means that someone looked after another human being; they clothed them, fed them, kept them warm and tended them so they had time to heal. That is a sign of a civilised society.
‘There are all these people who don’t have homes, who can’t afford the rent and as fellow human beings we need to look after them. We need to make sure they have access to toilets and showers. We have to have more compassion. We’re all in this together as a species.
‘We have to re-think how we live our lives and remember that. We need to create places for people to be to get through this challenging period.’
Mr Stante said he had been in contact with Byron Shire Council and General Manager Mark Arnold has responded saying that, ‘Staff will be attending the site [Scarrabellotti’s Lookout] today to provide alternate options for the campers within the Shire. Following the relocation of the campers Council will be moving to close the lookout entrance.’
Council and police are continuing to fo patrols across the Byron Shire. A police spokesperson told Echonetdaily that they ‘will be using their discretion on a case by case basis when making a decision to enforce the regulations’.
Are camp grounds an option?
Currently camping grounds are closed, however, exceptions are made in the Public Health Order, part 4 that allow permanent residents to remain as well as those ‘persons who have no other place of permanent residence or who have no other place of permanent residence or whose primary place of residence is temporarily unavailable’.
They are also available to overnight travellers and ‘persons working in the local area’. Local MP Tamara Smith has supported the use of caravan parks for rough sleepers and travellers in the current circumstances.
The police and Byron Shire Council are clear to point out that camping in the streets, parks and reserves is prohibited.
However, they are clear that they have not forgotten these vulnerable people. Byron Shire Council and the police are encouraging the homeless, backpackers, people sleeping in vans and cars to utilise this service at a considerably reduced rate.
‘Our caravan parks are permanent homes to many folk who are vulnerable in terms of age and health so managing who might be given shelter in the parks now that they are closed to casual visitors needs to be carefully managed,’ said Ms Smith.
‘If we have the right support from government to protect guests, tenants, park managers, staff and the community I think our caravan parks could be used to provide shelter for people rough sleeping and also for travellers who need to be quarantined.’
‘What we don’t want is folk dumped into settings like caravan parks without a huge amount of support for the entire park community and the people placed there,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘That means for many rough sleepers wrap around social and health support at a level that we were not seeing before the pandemic so we would need to see radical improvement and assurances before we could sanction placing homeless folk in our caravan parks.
‘With the right social, financial and health support temporary accomodation in vacant dwellings across the region could be ideal transition paths to permanent accomodation for people who are homeless, including people who are couch surfing and living in cars. How do you stay at home if you don’t have a home to stay at?
‘Quarantine areas for people who have come back from overseas and live in the Northern Rivers is a need I foresee over the next few months and this could be an opportunity for some of our accomodation providers.
As long as all parties are safe as well as any other residents or guests, accomodation providers have a role to play in providing quarantine and being compensated by the government,’ she explained.
‘Quarantine that is managed by the government gives a lot of relief to the broader community as transmission rates from people returning from overseas seems high and people seem to have different interpretations about what isolating looks like!’