Byron push to evict beachside squatters
By Megan Kinninment
They offer a seat on the leather lounge, a coffee from the percolator and promise to put the garbage out once a week. But the residents of this secluded Byron Bay beachside estate are not your average neighbours.
Hidden among a thicket of banksia scrub and lantana, within the 14 hectare Sandhills Estate, up to 40 homeless people have established their own fringe community just metres away from the Byron Bay Courthouse and a short walk to Clarks Beach.
The hidden tarps-and-tent housing estate has provided refuge for Byron's homeless for years, but Ramsey Street this ain't.
Nearby neighbours are so fed up with all-night parties and fights, unsanitary toilet habits and tap-water borrowing. They have called on Byron Bay police and Byron Shire Council to clean the estate up.
One neighbour who didn't want to named told The Northern Star: "I'm frightened to walk past here. Where are they urinating, where does their rubbish go?"
Evicting the campers was not that simple, say police and the council, who both signed a protocol for dealing with homeless in 2002, with specific instruction from the NSW Ombudsman on the rights of homeless people not to be harassed.
"We can't just go in there and throw their possessions on a ute and take them to the tip," Insp Ian Fitzsimmons said.
Byron Shire council's planning Director Ray Darney agrees: "We can't come in heavy-handed to solve the problem."
The Sandhills estate is Crown land and falls under the administration of the Department of Lands, but the council has responsibility over public health matters.
"They are living in very poor conditions, I'm concerned about the health aspects," Mr Darney said.
"In 2005, people shouldn't have to live like this," he said.
One Sandhills resident, 19year-old Yasala, has a solution: The Department could build an amenities block and allow them to stay camped.
"I've been here two years now," she said.
"Before that I used to sleep on the verandah at Hertz Rent-a-Car.
"We have our places that we sneak to have showers, or I go into the surf.
"We're not parkies. We hardly ever even go into town except to go to the shops.
"We don't bother anybody."
However Insp Fitzsimmons of Byron Bay police said he regularly received complaints from neighbours unhappy with the estate.
"We want council to clean it up," Insp Fitzsimmons said.
"Homelessness is a big problem in Byron Bay and Sandhills has been an ongoing problem for four years.
"It's not a suitable location for people to camp. There's no facilities.
"But I don't know how we deal with it. It's something that needs to be addressed by the whole community."
Ray Darney said the council intended to meet with Byron Bay police and the Department of Lands later this month to discuss the issue of the illegal campers.