Byron Shire Council has carried out its promise to close a public carpark in Brunswick Heads, where a group of van dwellers were reportedly engaging in anti-social behaviour.
But with no alternative site provided, and talk of setting up hot showers and other facilities in the town so far coming to nothing, some are questioning whether the issue has received anything more than a band-aid solution.
A majority of councillors voted to close the South Beach Lane carpark at its May meeting, after home owners on the lane complained that the campers were slamming their doors and playing loud music at all hours, polluting the site with rubbish and human waste, and verbally abusing residents.
Staff followed through earlier this month, moving the campers on, and installing a row of large concrete barriers in the lane to prevent their return.
The move appears to have appeased most of the home owners.
However, with no alternative parking area available, some of the van dwellers appear to have simply moved around the corner to South Beach Road.
‘To some degree, it’s just moving the situation to another spot,’ said Sarah-Jane McGrath, a local woman experiencing homelessness who advocates for others in a similar situation.
‘I supported the closure of that space, even though I’ve been homeless and living in my van for three years, because I felt the people who created the disharmony needed to be moved on.
‘But nothing has really changed in terms of the overall issue.’
Following its decision to close the car park, Council passed a motion at its next meeting calling on NSW Housing Minister, Rose Jackson, to fund an outreach program that supports those who are genuinely homeless, rather than ‘those who choose to freeload in our streets’.
During that meeting, Mayor Michael Lyon, who moved the motion, said that Council had begun talking to Reflections Holiday Parks, the state-owned corporation which runs many of the Shire’s caravan parks, about making their services available to rough sleepers.
However, nearly two months on, it appears little or no progress has been made to provide additional services for people experiencing homelessness in Brunswick Heads or anywhere else in the Shire.
This is despite the fact that Byron has the highest number of rough sleepers of any local government area in the state, rising 50 per cent in two years.
Not enough facilities
‘There are clearly not enough facilities in Bruns,’ Ms McGrath says.
‘I know that Council’s GM has been in conversation with Reflections about using their showers and kitchen facilities, but realistically they’re not going to want to afford the cost. I think there’s a great opportunity for an outreach officer to be based at the so-called Bruns Community Centre.
‘But I think one of the most basic needs is a space where homeless people can have a hot shower.’