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