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.