Aunty Jude ready to say a last goodbye
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
"COME on in," welcomes Aunty Jude.
Dressed in a violet felt robe with fuchsia-tipped fingernails, she lifts back the string of beads that separate her living space from bushland.
It may be constructed of leaking tarps and soggy mattresses, but the frail Aunty Jude takes pride in how she keeps the makeshift campsite that has been home for five years in banksia scrubland at the Sandhills Estate near Clarks Beach, Byron Bay.
Yesterday Jude's treasured possessions ? special dresses, trinkets and a teddy bear ? were neatly arranged, ready for moving.
Jude is the last of the 40 homeless campers to leave the 14 hectare crown land estate after being evicted by the NSW Department of Lands.
Despite earlier promises by the department that the homeless would be helped to find accommodation, only two have been relocated into houses.
The rest, like Jude, face a bleak life back on the streets.
"The Department of Lands did nothing for them," Byron Shire Councillor John Lazarus said.
"They provided a list of caravan parks. Nothing practical. That was it."
Cr Lazarus has taken a leading role in advocating for the Sandhills homeless.
While he was not able to convince the department to allow the campers to stay longer, his involvement did ensure that the actual eviction process was free of confrontation, with campers able to keep their possessions instead of losing them to a skip bin.
But it's not enough for Cr Lazarus.
"I'm really worried about them," he said.
"They don't have access to the basics ? water, toilets, shelter."
With 'No Camping' signs now erected at Sandhills, Cr Lazarus wants his council to create a new campsite for the homeless, with bushland near the Short Stop service station mooted as a possible site.
"It could be used as a rest area for tourists during the day, and the homeless could have somewhere safe to sleep at night," he said.
The dual-use rest area would provide toilets, a shower, running water and an undercover barbecue area, Cr Lazarus said.
While Cr Lazarus will take his plan to the next ordinary meeting of council in August, Aunty Jude faces an uncertain future.
"I've been here for five years," she said.
"I just want to stay, it's my home, my special little place."