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May 28, 2024

Byron Shire sees biggest increase in rough sleepers

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Byron Shire topped the state with a 16 per cent increase in rough sleepers, but the count also showed significant increases in numbers across Tweed, Ballina and Lismore shires.

While Sydney has remained stable with a one per cent increase it is the regional areas experiencing the biggest surge in homelessness in the past year. The 2024 street count found 2,037 people sleeping rough in 2024 compared to 1,623 people last year. 

‘The sobering street count figures again paint a harrowing picture of homelessness and street sleeping across our state.,’ said Minister for Homelessness Rose Jackson.

‘While levels of street sleeping have stabilised in Sydney, we are still seeing an unprecedented increase of homelessness in many of our regional towns. We don’t just need data to tell us this – our regional communities are feeling this every day.’

The impact of climate disasters like the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, the 2022 floods, the rising interest rates, cost of living pressures and a shortage of rental homes are just some of the factors that are continuing to drive homelessness and street sleeping. 

It is important to note that these are just the people sleeping on the street and in their cars, they do not reflect the number of people who are homeless and for example are staying with family or sleeping on friend’s couches etc. 

Rough sleeping is on the rise in Byron Shire, home of the highest number of people who sleep rough per capita in NSW outside of Sydney. Photo Rudiger Wasser. www.rudigerwasser.com.

Lismore saw an increase of rough sleepers jump from 40 in 2023 to 64 in 2024. Tweed Valley went from 145 to 174 in 2024, Ballina went from 30 to 63 and Byron Shire went from 300 to 348. 

Taking action?

The NSW government have said they are taking action to address the rise in rough sleepers and homelessness by: 

‘Addressing Short Term Rental Accommodation rules because we know the current rules aren’t working; Delivering more public and social homes and bringing vacant homes back online; Exploring modular housing that is good quality, fast and locally made to support local jobs; Properly supporting Special Homelessness Services (SHS) including extension to Specialist Homelessness Services contract from 2024 to 2026 and moving to 5-year contracts to create more certainty; Removing caps on temporary accommodation so people, especially women and children, have a safe place to stay instead of on the streets; and Increasing support for victim-survivors, and expanding the staying home leaving violence program statewide, so victims are able to stay at home and avoid homelessness.’

Being homeless can be dangerous on the streets of the Northern Rivers.

Minister Jackson said, ‘We have been clear – we are looking at every single option to tackle the housing and rental crisis. This includes our wide-ranging review of Short Term Rental Accommodation rules which we are in the process of finalising very soon.

‘We know the current Short Term Rental Accommodation rules are having an impact on homelessness and street sleeping, especially in our regions, which is why we are acting.’

Ballina MP Tamara Smith. Photo David Lowe.

Tangible results needed

‘Byron Shire has had the highest number of rough sleepers in the state for a while. We haven’t seen strong action by Labor or the previous Liberal and National party coalition; we are at crisis point,’ Ballina MP Tamara Smith told The Echo.

‘We need recurrent funding for organisations like the Mullumbimby District and Neighbourhood Centre (MDNC), Liberation Larder,  the Hot Meals Centre in Ballina and Byron Fletcher Street Cottage. 

‘Whilst I welcome the extension of the government’s assertive outreach program for Byron Shire, unless we see a radical agenda for building housing across the Northern Rivers there is, literally, nowhere for people to go. 

‘There was nothing in last year’s budget in Byron LGA for housing and if there is nothing in this year’s budget then the government isn’t taking this issue seriously.   

‘The community fought tooth and nail for decades to have for Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA) regulation and while this will make some difference it is not an panacea.

‘We need recurrent funding for those organisatons that work on the frontline as well as a radical agenda for building social and affordable housing in the Northern Rivers.’ 

The 2024 street count was completed between 1 February and 1 March 2024 and is published annually.

For more information about how the 2024 Street Count was done and the breakdown of results across NSW, visit: www.facs.nsw.gov.au/housing/housing-reforms/homelessness/street-count.


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8 COMMENTS

  1. The situation is beyond diabolical. And with councils refusing to extend pod village leases without investing in social/affordable housing first is completely insane. Women CANNOT afford to leave DV, it’s no wonder the number of deaths is increasing.

  2. Food , water, shelter are basic needs for life.
    Shame on our government.
    There is money to supply shelter for every Australian.
    The government chooses to spend it elsewhere.
    It’s unconscionable.

  3. Sleeping rough in Byron is preferable to sleeping rough in Dubbo, Tenterfield, Sydney, Brisbane etc.
    I wonder how many would accept the offer of Pods somewhere else. Broken Hill, Tennant Creek? You people.

  4. Sleeping rough is the greatest danger to anyone…anywhere. High crime stats reveal the dangers of homeless crime. Byron Council is not doing its reputation any good by tolerating/creating such a structural poverty. Council focusses only on pleasing the Top End folks.

  5. Sleeping rough is the greatest danger to anyone…anywhere. It also attracts crime as many homeless people are also attacked . Byron Council is not doing its reputation any good by tolerating/creating such a structural poverty. Council focusses only on pleasing the Top End folks.

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