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Byron Shire
April 20, 2021

Long-term local homeless for nine months

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Sarah-Jane at her homeless camp at Byron Shire Council chambers in Mullumbimby. Photo Jeff Dawson.

Share, eviction, funding, security, abuse, safety, intimidation, solutions… these were just some of the words that hung on Sarah-Jane McGrath’s clothesline around her ‘camp’ on the lawn of Byron Shire Council on International Women’s Day, March 8. 

After 20 years as an active member of the local community, Sarah-Jane has been homeless in Byron Shire for nine months and counting.

‘I was evicted from a 10 year tenancy, with 30 days’ notice, during the great COVID-19 moratorium, by a landlord and manager of the property, who had absolutely no compassion for my loss of earnings, for my health, and wellbeing, or for the lack of housing in the Shire’, she told The Echo

Sarah-Jane has been no slouch in terms of her contributions to community, from co-founding the Mullumbimby Community Gardens, to active engagement in the Mullumbimby District Neighbourhood Centre and the Byron Arts and Cultural Community Centre. Sarah-Jane has also been a member of local hall committees and, as an artist and performer, has been involved in local theatre and festivals.

Her performance piece was created to highlight the real, and ongoing, issues that an increasing number of people in the area are facing.

She added, ‘I am shocked at the lack of understanding the Byron Shire community has shown for anyone who is homeless, sleeping rough and is unsupported at this time. Instead, they are reporting people sleeping in their streets, without even engaging with them to see if they are okay’.

‘This is especially concerning, considering the plethora of new people, new money, and nil rentals available.

‘I’ve been involved in many other festivals which have now been dormant for over one year, with no guarantee of return to the events full capacity, as the NSW government  believes we are still in some form of police enforced lockdown, illuminating dance at the culprit of numerous fines.’

Social housing essential

According to the Community Housing Industry Association (CHIA) NSW the social housing waitlist was already 50,000 households long, prior to the pandemic. The CHIA is now predicting a rise in homelessness of up to 48 per cent by June in NSW.

We are well past the point of crisis. We need long-term housing options for people who have been failed by the private rental market.  We need strong investment in new housing, particularly in regional areas where vacancy rates are at historic lows.

Without this investment, thousands of NSW families will have nowhere to go,’ says Mark Degotardi, CEO of CHIA NSW. 

In its 2021–22 State Budget submission CHIA NSW has called on the NSW Government to deliver 5,000 new homes a year for the next decade.


The performance piece was created to highlight the real, and ongoing, issues that an increasing number of people in the area are facing. Many people, female and male, single and couples, are being displaced from the places that they call home in the shire and the broader region. Throughout the morning, Sarah-Jane was able to engage with a range of people from councillors, to those passing by as they stopped to discuss the ongoing issues of housing, affordability, and rough sleeping.


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  1. I respect and support Sarah-Jane for sticking out like a sore thumb!
    I hope you find a forever home soon.

    I am 66 and slept rough for 23 nights, rain, scared, ya know,
    I have now been accommodated thank God.
    To repay, there will be a Public Meeting at the Quad in Lismore.
    Wednesday March 24 Midday.
    Anyone who cares to show up will give a voice from the Community to the Politicians that this is an acute issue for
    Federal, State and Local Engagement.
    Ive done my bit by picking a date, inviting as many stakeholders as I can, and
    doing flyers.
    I am exhausted after 3 years of this.
    Time for the people who are paid good money to do their jobs.

  2. l’m in Public Housing on the Sunshine Coast.QLD.that l waited five years for.
    lt was like winning lotto!
    until it turned into a nightmare!

    l’ve been called a slut,a cunt and a bitch by my male neighbours.l’ve been sexually harnessed and had my car damaged. Finally,last week l was chased down and assaulted for videoing someones abusive behaviour while he was intoxicated. The police didn’t charge him as we still have provocation laws in Qld,therefore l made him do it!

    When we lobby for affordable housing ,we need to stress that it needs to be Safe as well.ie housing for women only.( and children)
    Why do we continue to put vunnerable women
    into housing with seriously disturbed predators and criminals?

    l’ve been told several times to stop my Bitching
    and that l should be grateful and l should put up and shut up!same old rhetoric!
    Most women in need have made more of a contribution then most politicians put together and it’s a disgrace that Australia cannot house us safely.
    Good luck ladies you’re going to need it!

  3. I lived in Byron and surrounds for 30years. In the last 15, in a one room studio, then container ( turned in Air BnB), and finally a shed in Pottsville. After deciding l had enough of feeling push out l moved to NthWest Vic where l now live in a 2 bedroom house with huge yard for less than shed! Yes l miss my old friends and family who are lucky to still be living in the shire. But sometimes you have to move on to better your situation. I have saved lots of money because of the abundance of fresh food and having everything close by.
    Greedy landlords and the better off don’t give a damn about less fortunate. Get out while you can!

  4. Maybe the real reasons for the unaffordability of accommodation in Byron Shire can be found close to the source. Ever since the Hollywood Hemsworths and their buddies decended on Byron and splashed their hedonistic lifestyles on every trashy celebrity who’s who in Byron Bay media outlet available, the real estate prices
    Have exploded,pushing out the locals. They have made the Shire an enclave for the rich listers.


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