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Byron Shire
February 9, 2023

No accountability around pod villages

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Claims of violence at a number of pod village sites across the Northern Rivers has been brought to the attention of The Echo, raising concerns over the safety of residents and staff at pod sites. 

In response to the floods that left people homeless earlier this year, emergency powers were enacted – which bypassed normal development processes – to allow Resilience NSW to develop a number of cluster pod villages on the north coast. The free accommodation comprises two-bedroom units with shared laundry and toilet/shower facilities. 

The claims of violence also raise questions around the operation of the Mullumbimby and Ballina pod sites that opened on December 19.  

Northern Rivers pod housing allocations, circle of responsibility.

A number of people involved with the sites, who asked not to be identified, have said there is ongoing violence at some pod sites that is endangering staff and residents. 

Yet despite those claims, specifically at the Lismore SCU site on December 6, police say there are no major problems with the pods in the Lismore area.

Duty officer for Lismore/Richmond Local Area Command (LAC), Inspector Nigel Howard, told The Echo, ‘It’s not a daily occurrence to be called out, and appears a similar workload to before the floods’. 

Additionally, the duty officer from Tweed Byron Police district also told The Echo that there are no problems with the pod villages in the areas that they cover.

Not flood-affected residents

The Echo was told that the NSW Department of Community Justice (DCJ) has been putting forward people who are homeless rather than directly flood-affected, some of whom have violent criminal histories, and then overriding site managers who said they didn’t think they were a good fit for their site.

‘It is the residents who aren’t flood-affected that are the problem,’ The Echo was told. The source alleged that, ‘The DCJ has a priority list; their priority is to get their existing clients out of temporary accommodation like hotels/resorts etc, so they are prioritising these clients over flood victims. I know people who are living in tents or cars waiting for pods, and I believe they are not getting placed because they are currently not costing the government any money.’

The Echo has been told that there are a number of residents that are drinking from early in the day, which is often leading to the anti-social behaviour. 

Resilience NSW responded to questions about the management of who gets placed at the sites, telling The Echo, ‘We are partnering with local community housing providers who are responsible for resident allocations and day-to-day management of the site.’

No accountability

However, Executive Manager Housing Services for North Coast Community Housing (NCCH), Ray Mackeen, who manage sites at Ballina, Evans Head, Kingscliff, Lismore, Pottsville and Wollongbar, said that ‘Any matter pertaining to the registration of individuals for temporary housing should be directed to Service NSW and DCJ’. 

The DCJ said they had passed on The Echo’s enquiries regarding who is being placed at the pod sites to Resilience NSW. 

Sources have told The Echo that approximately one-third of the residents at the SCU Lismore pod site are not directly flood-affected. 

Responding to questions on the allocation of pods to non flood-affected residents, a spokesperson for Resilience NSW said, ‘Residents register for temporary housing before going through an assessment and eligibility process to gain access to the program. Part of this assessment is verifying that they were flood-affected, with priority given to those based in the local area.’

One of The Echo sources said, ‘Everybody deserves to have a safe home regardless of their background, but they need to be set up and supported appropriately. [Potentially] putting criminals next to vulnerable, flood-impacted families is just not how this process should be handled.’

‘The site management don’t appear to have the right to say no and refuse recommended clients for housing, regardless of their failure to fit criteria, and that they create an unsafe environment.’ 

Not enough staff

It is understood that each pod village is meant to have a social worker, case worker, site manager and community event workers but that the housing providers NCCH are not currently able to provide adequate staff on existing sites.

‘They don’t even have enough staff to manage the villages they have let alone two more,’ one of the people who had contacted The Echo said, referring to the opening of the Mullumbimby and Ballina sites.

Mr Mackeen from NCCH told The Echo that, ‘NCCH is working to ensure that the most appropriate and qualified staff are employed on-site to support residents. In this regard, NCCH has undertaken a comprehensive recruitment process to source candidates – which has been achieved within the context of a challenging labour market. 

‘NCCH continues its recruitment phase – with this process to be completed early in the new year – with local applicants encouraged to apply. All villages continue to be supported.’

One source concluded that, ‘There are many really positive things that are, and could be coming out of these spaces. It is the ineffective management by NCCH, DCJ and ResNSW that is leaving these people vulnerable’. 

Let down by govt

Local MP Tamara Smith (Greens) told The Echo she was concerned that extremely vulnerable people in the community were continuing to be ‘let down by the agencies that are in place to support them.’ 

‘People in our community who are being housed in these pod villages need to be set up for success – not further traumatised. 

‘That goes for the neighbourhoods that are hosting the pod villages. The Perrottet government have gone on holiday at a time when we need the most support.’

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    • Xenophobia raises its head again. If they did “apply these arguments to immigration”, people with names like Steinberg might find themselves excluded. Hmmm …

      • Why do Xenophiles always mistake in-group preference as some kind of fear…or hatred.
        Why would I want Mr Johnny Come Lately Steinberg to share my countries wealth? Where were his ancestors when this place was built?

  1. surely there should have some kind of behaviour commitment for occupants at the very start of the housing process and if this is broken because of poor behaviour then they can be removed from the facility.

    people have rights and responsibilities in society and this should be no different, its not a free ride for poor behaviour and lack of respect.

    • Pretty sure the ‘Pods’ are in society, thus the same rules do apply. Banning people from breaking the law makes as much sense as disarming law abiding citizens.

    • Council rangers will fill you in on the behaviour they are encountering. Says a lot when they are now wearing bodycams because of the abuse they are receiving.

  2. You’ll probably find these claims are being made by people whose business interests are being hurt by the provision of free rental accommodation.

  3. Was watching that Byron home buyers show on the teev last night where punters hunt their bit of a hinterland shack for prices in the $mils.
    But no room at the inn….

    Merry Xmas Echoians!

    – JBean


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