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Byron Shire
September 25, 2021

Bruns homeless moved on by police, Council

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Aslan Shand

Illegal campers have been allowed to remain opposite the Brunswick Heads Surf Club over recent months, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Illegal camping in Brunswick Heads

However, Tuesday morning (July 21), a co-ordinated action by Byron Shire Council (BSC), the police, National Parks (NP), and Crown Lands removed them from the area.

Police and BSC said there have been complaints of habitation damage, intimidation, property damage and anti-social behaviour over the months that people have been inhabiting the site.

Yet this was disputed by members of the camp, who said that, ‘everyone is welcome’. 

One member of the group said, ‘We have music, we make sure everyone has food and a bed for the night, we look after everyone’.

‘Where are we supposed to go?’ asked another camper as they were being told to leave. ‘They said they would organise housing for us, but where is it?’

Lack of options

Detective Chief Inspector of the Tweed Byron Police, Matt Kehoe, told Echonetdaily that, ‘The operation ran in two phases over the last two weeks, with warnings and notices issued along with ongoing attempts to house homeless persons with the assistance of the Byron Shire Council homelessness support officer.’

The support officer has been connecting residents of the camp with service providers and agencies. However, owing to lack of both temporary and long term accommodation in the region, there appears to be difficulty getting people housed. Despite that, BSC said that three to four people had accepted offers of temporary accommodation.

There is no temporary housing in Byron Shire and those in need have to relocate to Ballina, Lismore or Tweed Shires to access both temporary and longterm housing.

With only two to three housing providers in the region, there are a number of challenges to getting people temporary housing, said Nick Carlile, who is the project officer for rough sleeping with BSC.

‘There are geographical challenges, and some people don’t have cars or access to other transport,  and there are also limits on places where you can take dogs,’ said Nick.

‘However, there is still a significant shortage of temporary and longterm housing in the region, which also has the highest level of rough sleepers outside of Sydney.’

Local MP Tamara Smith has told Echonetdaily that, ‘It’s quite depressing to keep saying the same thing. But we really need to government to start coughing up with real solutions to address the spectrum of housing needs for our community. These range from rough sleepers to insecure tenancies.

‘There has been some federal and state government monies announced for the social housing sector in the last few weeks but the devil will be in the detail. I will be watching carefully to see what is actually in it for our community. We need genuinely affordable housing options that are in place for the next 30 to 50 years not just a developer getting out within five to six years of providing an affordable housing option as part of a broader development.’

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  1. Problem: lack of sufficient affordable housing
    Solution: build more of it
    Can’t afford it?
    Of course we can.
    Then what’s the problem? Greed? Selfishness? Incompetent planning authorities? Fear?
    Besides, what’s wrong with living in the bush? There’s plenty of it.
    If you don’t want people living rough, then give them a home.

  2. This is further evidence that capitalism has failed. If we are missing the thousands of tourists we usually have, then there must be plenty of empty accommodation. The council should mandate owners of vacant holiday accommodation to allow the homeless to live there. All people are equal. Treating the homeless as second class citizens is a huge injustice.

  3. Reducing Airbnb’s in the Shire would help. If you don’t live here you shouldn’t have an Airbnb, housing should be for people who live and work in the community not reserved for visitors. Just a thought…..

  4. Very poignant points in this well expressed article.
    Thankyou for making more public this vital issue.
    People and their non-human family members are forced variously, into these situations, and all paths out may be closed.Vilification follows, but no help.
    One thing the banks could do would be to provide conscionable home loans to people on small fixed government incomes including jobseeker, job keeper, single parent, disability and aged and other pensions, particularly those without opportunity for other sources of income or funding to live in a suitable home.
    Shelter is the first priority.

  5. Perhaps the aprox $100,000 that council has spent on wire fencing to keep the homeless from sheltering out of the rain on the unused Byron Railway station, and the aprox $100,000 paid in wages for councils ‘homeless support officer’ may be better spent on a council provision of setting up an affordable residential space in councils caravan parks. Also the closed south Byron Sewerage plant has toilets, and a margin to a caravan park with shop, and the street side of the block would be a good spot for a permanent council residential van/camping park. And not to mention that Byron has twice the state average of empty houses in winter, which are mainly still unlawful and prohibited tourist holiday lets – ah but the unlawful holiday let owners have money, so just the unlawful homeless campers get councils compliance

  6. This is a very difficult situation that is not easily addressed. As someone who uses the reserve regularly there was a definite spike in campers in the reserve since the first wave of covid. While I understand the difficulties of affordable accommodation in the area the situation in the reserve was fast becoming out of control. There was a mix of travelers and homeless people living in the reserve. For the most part people are very respectful of each other but the bar was fast becoming lowered with numerous piles of rubbish, dogs running around well into the reserve off leash, cars parked on sensitive vegetation, vegetation being destroyed and damaged, motorbikes racing around etc…. The reserve is not a place for people with housing and poverty issues to live. Unfortunately our governments on all levels over many years have neglected and dropped the ball on this issue. As a society we must make a commitment to all members of society for basic standards of living and income. We all suffer if this is neglected and society becomes unsafe and unhappy if we leave people behind. Thank you to council and crown lands for finally (after years of asking) blocking off the illegal access to vehicles to the reserve. That is a big step. The tyagarah reserve is such an important asset to our community, even more so in this time of covid. People need access to natural spaces that are open, spacious, safe, peaceful and as wild as possible for their mental/emotional health. Our community needs this well managed public reserve now more than ever! Please respect and love this place and lets have it for ALL to freely enjoy.

  7. Brunswick Heads has always had a number of folk who live in their cars or in the bush, the locals know who they are and generally let them be, they leave little or no “footprint” on the land.
    Property prices have gone through the roof in the last 20 years and the stock of public housing is very small.
    It’s a long and complicated business to dislodge the illegal campers , the authorities have to obey procedures , which is more than can be said for the offenders .
    Well done to all involved in the eviction and to those who continued to agitate to have these folk removed.
    Homelessness is a problem for women of a certain age who through no fault of their own find themselves on the streets, we don’t see many of them setting up camp with their 4×4’s on prime bits of real estate.
    Don’t know the answer, just want Bruns to be respected not trashed.

  8. There have always been a number of homeless in this beach area that kept to themselves, did not habitate in large groups or cause any social issues. When COVID hit someone in Council decided it was a good idea that the Brunswick Beach carpark remain open when all other beachside carparks between Tweed Heads and Ballina were fenced off and closed to stop group gatherings. Word got around and pretty soon every traveler in the region descended on Brunswick and all the “hill tribes” pitched their tents in the dunes aware that council was turning a blind eye. One homeless guy I spoke to was forced out of his long time bush hideaway by the hordes of opportunistic van dwellers and travelers who partied all night and turned the dunes into a tent park and their own private toilet. The vast majority of these people were not homeless but just a bunch of recalcitrant travelers. The local homeless will be glad to see the last of this mob who unfortunately put the spotlight on them and are now also being moved on as a result of very poor decision making by Council. While it may have been well intentioned it was a complete stuff up. With a virus second wave a distinct possibility, leaving only one beachside carpark open for travellers across 3 Shires was a total disaster and should not happen again !!

  9. IF there was a levy of $2 per day on all holiday accommodation then that would go a long way to providing some temporary housing for gratis for those who need a bed at night in Brunswick, Mullumbimby or Ocean Shores.

  10. Too busy sitting around making pests of themselves instead of building a life and breaking out of that cycle themselves. Their attitude of “the govt should help me” comes through LOUD AND CLEAR in this article.
    Why should the Govt help – what does the Govt (i.e. us) owe these people?? Nothing, I can see.


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