Across the Northern Rivers there are families who are still homeless after the February and March floods and solutions to the problems are not coming thick and fast. For many the hope of a housing pod, though temporary, is the only hope of a home in the near future.
The issue is emotional and frustrating and Tuesday evening’s Lismore Council meeting saw more debate about how, and more importantly, where to house those in need.
Yesterday The Echo spoke to Lismore Councillor Elly Bird who along with Councillors Vanessa Ekins and Darlene Cook moved a rescission motion in the hopes of changing Council’s mind over the August meeting resolution to exclude Hepburn Park from the list of possible sites provided to the NSW government for pods.
Cr Bird says Councillors Peter Colby, Jeri Hall, Andrew Bing, Andrew Gordon, Electra Jensen and Big Rob, blocking the rescission clearly showed that they are completely disconnected from the trauma and devastation that the community is living with every single day. ‘They voted against a very reasonable middle ground to provide some temporary accommodation on a portion only of Hepburn Park.
‘I am beyond devastated. I have spent every single day and every waking hour since February supporting people whose lives have been torn apart and this decision is absolutely shameful.
‘Not once have any of those people visited either Resilient Lismore or the Koori Mail, in nearly nine months they have never walked through the door or asked if there is anything they can do to help. They have no idea what people are living with or how complex and impossible it is to secure housing for those who need it most. From where I sit they have totally failed in their duty to serve our community. From the comfort of their safe and privileged lives they have abandoned the people they were elected to serve.
Cr Bird was particularly hurt and offended by comments made by Councillor Rob whose arguments against Hepburn Park as a location for pods included citing his own experience as an accommodation manager. ‘Let me tell you, in these boardinghouse rooms I manage, we don’t get told what someone’s history is. What happens is, every now and then police come through and arrest someone for being a paedophile. So this is in a place with 40 rooms, we don’t know who’s coming in, and we’re going to put that right next to kids playing sport?’
Utterly, utterly shameful
‘Cr Rob referred to paedophiles and drug addicts in his speech, clearly labelling the thousands of ordinary people who have nowhere to go as unsavoury and unworthy,’ said Cr Bird.
‘Utterly, utterly shameful. I have been proud to serve Lismore Council for the past six years but today I am ashamed. We deserve real leaders who care and who have the courage and moral fortitude to make uncomfortable decisions in the best interest of the people we serve. To anyone in our community who this decision affects I am so sorry and I hope you take comfort that there are many, many other people in this community who see your suffering and are working as hard as they can to help.’
Cr Bird said Tuesday’s meeting was one of the most difficult she has ever had to sit in. ‘I’ve been in some challenging debates since I was elected but nothing has ever come close to the feeling of a majority of Councillors voting to refuse a proposal that attempted to meet the fundamental, basic human right of providing shelter for our displaced community.
‘Lismore was the most heavily impacted community in this disaster of epic scale and I am shocked and appalled that compassion was not the primary factor in making this decision. Instead, it seems that Councillors have been motivated by their anger with Resilience NSW and voted accordingly except it is the people who are desperate for housing who are the ones that get punished.
There is a disconnect
‘I can’t help feeling that there is a disconnect and that they just don’t understand the scale and complexity of what is happening in our community. I see many people every day who are homeless because of the floods. Those people desperately need housing.’
Cr Bird said the arguments that were put forward in the Chamber were hollow, misinformed and insulting. ‘There were numerous suggestions that flood survivors are drug addicts and alcoholics who can’t be trusted to live in “nice” neighbourhoods, or to live close to a club where they would be gambling and drinking.
‘We had a very reasonable middle ground on the table to provide some temporary accommodation on a portion only of Hepburn Park. The motion was a compromise that addressed all of the community concerns that had previously been raised – in fact, there was not a single person who spoke against the motion [during Public Access] in the Chamber.
‘It’s my understanding that with the refusal of this motion, Resilience NSW will continue to work to provide housing however they can, by expanding other pod villages, and through further promotion of the Caravan at Home program through Camplify, but they are very challenged to find enough housing for everyone who needs it.’
‘I am devastated’
After the vote Cr Bird excused herself from the Chamber. ‘At the end of the debate and after the vote I couldn’t stay in the Chamber. I am devastated that this has happened and that a message, deliberate or not, has been clearly sent to our community that a majority of Councillors do not care about them.
‘Like many other people in our community, I am exhausted by this recovery and I couldn’t just sit there and vote on any other business that was before us. There is nothing more important to me than caring for our community and I can’t understand why it isn’t the unified and singular priority of our entire Council.
‘If there is anyone in our community reading this who this decision affects. I am so sorry and I hope you take comfort that there are many, many other people in this community who see your suffering and are working as hard as they can to help.’