For years, the volunteers at the Community Gardens in Mullumbimby have sought to accept and assist campers that periodically park up next to the much-loved green space.
But their patience is beginning to wear thin.
A bumper crop of long-term campers, most likely brought by the hardships of COVID-19, have reportedly been engaging in a range of antisocial activities.
These include leaving spilt food, cigarette butts and alcohol bottles in the community buildings that they have been permitted to use.
According to the Community Gardens president, Melody Edwards, there have also been times when anger flares in heated arguments between campers, and occasionally with those growing their food there.
‘We are not trained in dealing with mental health issues’, she said. ‘Nor do we have the time to do our supervision tasks when we are having to help stressed allotment holders, or scared mothers and children who feel unsafe in the children’s garden, owing to the loud angry arguments happening nearby,’ Melody said.
The volunteers are also reportedly left to re-sort the rubbish that is left in the garden’s bins by the campers.
Melody acknowledged that the issue of homelessness and itinerants was complex, and that a compassionate whole of community approach was needed.
However, it was not appropriate for the garden’s volunteers to be given the entire task.
‘We fully encourage this, and are certainly willing to assist, but not carry all the load’, Melody said.
‘We have been told by campers that, even though there are Council signs saying NO Camping, the rangers have told them that unofficially they will turn a blind eye to continued camping here’,
But Byron Council said this was not the case.
‘Council does not “turn a blind eye” to illegal campers in Mullumbimby, or anywhere else’, a Council spokesperson said.
‘Our enforcement team operates seven days a week, patrolling across the Shire, including the area near the Mullumbimby Community Gardens, issuing fines where and when necessary.’
‘With respect to rough sleeping and homelessness – Council is one of the most progressive in NSW in relation to the employment of Public Space Liaison Officers, who are working with people who are homeless, to connect them with NSW agencies and organisations that can help them’.