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Byron Shire
April 16, 2021

Where do the homeless and travellers go during the pandemic?

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With ‘affordable housing’ being the new catchcry in parts of the Northern Rivers, The Echo did a ring-around to find the cheapest rental living space in Byron Bay’s caravan parks and camping grounds.

There are increasing numbers of campers at Scarrabellotti’s Lookout and other locations throughout the shire. Photo supplied.

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.

There are increasing numbers of campers at Scarrabellotti’s Lookout. Photo supplied.

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.

Reduced rates

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.

Support needed

‘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.

Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith. Photo Tree Faerie.

‘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!’ 



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  1. 1. Yes we need to support genuinely homeless and displaced people however we need to designate certain places to do this and determine the resources needed to make sure these places have a criteria to be met and are really well managed to ensure that current health requirements are met ie protection for staff and residents, cleaning etc. This could be somewhere like Cavanbagh Centre if needed temporarily
    2. Illegal camping is a major issue in the Shire quire distinctly from homelessness. With no rangers on at night and a Police already stretched and unable to attend calls out this is only going to get worse. Residents had the rights to have peace and safety and not have people using their front lawn as a toilet and having public recreation spaces potentially used as toilets. There needs to be a holistic strategy which embodies discouraging free camping, addressing compliance issues and looking at strategies for closing of Nature Reserves at night in order to protect them from potential fire and to ensure they are no turned into free campsites. The ability if Police to be able to easily issue enforcements need to be addressed as they need less paperwork and more automated systems according to reports
    3. We need to look at homelessness in a Byron and see how we can create support services and where these are best located. Liberation Larder is incredible however the placement of it is an issue sometimes as people working in retail and town also need to be able to feel safe. There have been reports of a of abusive language and confrontations which are difficult when you are in close proximity and needing to undertake work or navigating town. There may be a space that could be a permanent kitchen and have more space etc and storage.

    We need to consider everyone and make sure that solutions are resources. We definitely need our elected representatives to work to more funding as we are an area that cannot continue to support our community properly with such huge tourism drains. There are also opportunities for more sustainable tourism that puts less impact on the community.

  2. Perhaps the Parklands and Blues Festival sites could be used to house and accomodate the van packers , seeing as there are no festivals on in the imediate future ? They could also implement the social distancing rules and basically lock themselves down for a couple of weeks , as they could call it “home” for the time been ? I am sure the gov could provide for free camping here as an incentive to do the right thing , and the site owners could recover some lost income , could work for every one of us in this community ? With proper management and basic rules of engagement and freedoms , this may be a solution ?

  3. Wow, the comments show no respect for human life. Instead it’s focus is on enforcement of stupid rules that don’t address the issue. There are many factors and reasons for people sleeping in there cars and vans and all the laws don’t address the problem. The laws only address the rights of a few business owners and the council and dismiss the human factor. The council could do alot of things to help, but none of them are on the table as thay are only geared up to listen and look after big business, and the very loud one eyed locals. There is a problem, that council does not provide toilers , instead it spend $10s of thousands on removing the homeless and erecting concrete barriers and rock walls and sign posts threatening the homeless with prosecution if found homeless in this shire. Don’t look to the council for a solution, they just spend money on projects that cost millions to house a few. Get real, stop hastleing those that have to sleep in there cars. Demand your council provide more toilers and bins in places like Scaraboloties. And open more places where people can park up instead of closing them down like the rest area just above Bangalow. The council is not helping they are apart of the problem.

  4. Or perhaps the bourgeoise naive Airbnb owners here, instead of winging, judging and being so self centred you could offer your elite places for free to help the currently displaced and unhinged persons.


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