Fletcher Street cottage has risen again.
It’s hard to believe that the light-filled building that was reopened last week is the same drab, run-down structure that sat gathering dust in the centre of Byron Bay for five years.
The building – bright, timber-lined and well-equipped – will provide local people experiencing homelessness with a place to shower, get a decent breakfast, and access a range of support and services.
It couldn’t have come at a more critical time.
‘Homelessness was a huge problem before COVID, and now, as well as the pandemic, we’ve got floods which have displaced 15,000 people,’ said Louise O’Connell, General Manager of the Byron Community Centre, who will manage the facility.
‘So the fact that we’re opening this today is so timely and so important.’
The cottage was forced to close because of funding shortfalls, and then kept that way by a sea of red tape, until a plan to resurrect the ailing centre was devised by the Community Centre, and the team behind the Habitat housing development – Creative Capital.
They put the call out for donations from the community, and despite the crowdfunding campaign being launched on the first day of the first local COVID lockdown, locals gave more than $400,000 to the cause.
Scores of tradies also donated their time and expertise, transforming the run-down Council-owned building into a welcoming space that has been specially designed to help those experiencing homelessness feel safe.
‘We had north of 200 donors – not all of them rich by the way,’ the founder of Creative Capital, Brandon Saul said.
‘That’s one of the things I love about Byron. People come to support good things irrespective of wealth.’
Community donations have also funded a highly-skilled team of staff to undertake the centre’s day-to-day operations, led by Jenny Ryan, the Community Centre’s Homelessness Projects Manager.
‘People in our community who are sleeping rough are examples of where our structures and systems fail,’ she said.
‘These vulnerable people often face complex issues and are in need of basic care and support. Fletcher Street Cottage will provide these basic relief opportunities and be a safe haven where people can connect with supporting staff to meet their immediate needs.’
With the region’s housing crisis reaching desperate levels, the staff are likely to have their work cut out.
Byron Mayor Michael Lyon said, ‘Byron Shire has the highest population of people sleeping rough outside of the City of Sydney – that’s on the numbers, not per capita, and it’s a damning statistic’.
‘This recent flood event has put a much more intense spotlight on the issues we face in this Shire and in this region.
‘Having no secure housing and having nowhere to live is unfortunately a daunting reality for a lot of people.’
Fletcher Street Cottage will be open from Monday to Friday, with a breakfast service from 7am to 9am, access to showers and laundry from 7am to 12pm, and additional office support from 9am – 12pm.
For more information, visit www.fletcherstreetcottage.com.au.