STREET WISE: Robina Todd is typical of many sleeping on the streets around Byron Bay.
STREET WISE: Robina Todd is typical of many sleeping on the streets around Byron Bay. Christian Morrow

EDITORIAL: Homelessness- the conversation we have to have

ANGLICARE'S Housing Affordability snap shot released recently told us what we knew already - there is nothing affordable to rent in all.

If there is nothing affordable for low wage earners, and these include people like our kids going to uni and trying to work and study and put a roof over their heads, the knock on effect for the homeless is devastating.

Those left homeless because of domestic violence, joblessness, addiction or mental health issues are left with nothing, just the pavement or the bush camp.

Robina Todd is one woman who has found herself homeless in Byron. And I have to thank her for allowing me to tell a part of her story in this column.

She is typical of many who have lived on the streets of Byron, having been the subject of ongoing domestic violence and harassment that forced her to leave her home.

Robina suffers from angina, and her general health is not good. She also admits that her homelessness ordeal is taking its toll on her mental state.

She is here in Byron Bay to be near her daughter, who lives here. She feels she has no option but to live in a camper van where she can.

Ms Todd's original camper, the Black Pearl was burnt out at Belongil Beach in February, and she was also subject to online vilification by some sections of the Byron community.

It was a pretty horrible episode in our town's story but illustrates the problem.

In a recent conversation I had with Mayor Simon Richardson, he said homelessness in our shire was not a problem we could wish away or fine our way out of.

"We need to to recognise the link between mental health, addiction, affordable housing and social dislocation," he said.

He believes that there may be a case to look at giving homeless people a place in our community - create a safe place for them to live with some dignity.

In the past council has looked at fixing up the showers and facilities at the Rec grounds, but there was a pretty severe backlash to that suggestion.

Cr Richardson suggested that as part of a mature conversation about the problem the community could look at providing some primitive camping facilities at Butler St.

Up until a year ago the Fletcher St cottage was a place where homeless people could get a shower, a cup of tea and wash their clothes but this is gone due to federal government cutbacks.

So now it falls to council and the community to look at ways to help and primitive camping at Butler street may be an option.

"The great thing about the Fletcher Street Cottage was that it allowed people a little bit of dignity and a space that they could use...It also gave them a place where they could get help, in other words there could be a councillor there or a mental health practitioner could visit."

The positive of a having a place like Butler St primitive camp is that health and community service providers could go to one place and interact with the homeless and provide counselling and other forms of help that may help them begin to rebuild their lives.

I am not saying that any of the above is a solution.

It's just a part of a very difficult conversation we have to have here in Byron Bay.

Let me know what you think.


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