More to the Byron homeless story than ugly street ‘slum’
UPDATE, Thursday 1pm: HOMELESSNESS in Byron Bay is getting worse and cuts in government support mean vulnerable people are unable to meet basic sanitary needs, a Byron Bay social worker has said.
Celeste Harris, community services coordinator at the Byron Bay Community Centre, said the coastal area from Ballina to Tweed Heads had the second highest number of rough sleepers in the state.
The statistic is mainly due to the concentration of homeless people in Byron Shire - especially in Byron Bay.
Ms Harris said support for homeless people had plummeted since the closure of Fletcher St cottage last year, which provided a drop-in centre for homeless people enabling them to have a shower, a cup of tea, launder their clothes and access services.
"This community is not able to meet their basic needs for dignity and health and cleanliness," she said.
Said the community centre was struggling to cope with these "huge unmet needs", and it was becoming a "human rights" issue.
But she said divisive comments over "vagabonds" leaving litter on Byron's streets did not help the issue.
But Ms Harris said the "visible homeless" made up only a tiny minority of the total.
"The people that you see day to day on the street is by far the minority," Ms Harris said.
The vast majority of "hidden" homeless people included the working poor, large numbers of vulnerable women especially younger single parents, older women, and a "large number of women fleeing domestic violence".
Ms Harris also said it was debatable whether homeless people were the only ones responsible for the street littering on display in a recent Facebook post.
"We need to be very careful about lumping this group together… we need to understand the vulnerability and extreme marginalisation of people without a house and nowhere to live," Ms Harris said.
"We need to move away from stigmatising and marginalising this group and start to unify to support our most vulnerable members, and make sure they can receive the support the services and support they are entitled to and they need."
ORIGINAL: IT COULD be snapshots of somewhere in a third world country, but it's downtown Byron Bay.
Images posted to Facebook of a giant mess left by a group of "vagabonds" have ignited a debate on homelessness and the responsibility of people to clean up their mess.
Facebook user Boaz Jachin posted the series of images the Byron Bay Community Board page showing various bits of rubbish including toilet paper, cigarette butts and beer cans strewn around an off-street area.
So far the photos have generated plenty of passionate comments on the page.
Some sympathised with the plight of homeless people, who are often dealing with mental illness, while others have argued they should be held responsible for their actions.
Mr Jachin suggested the culprits be confronted "peacefully as a community, and tell them that we will not accept this type of behaviour, and will be asked to leave town or removed if they do not show some respect".
But Angela Mathrick wrote that she had tried on a few occasions and was verbally abused: "I was actually shaking after one woman hurled abuse at me for about 10 mins...there are mental health issues involved. She said she was going to get a knife and come back for me! Another time there was a guy sitting against the fence smoking ice - this time I just waited for him to leave then cleared away the mess."
Mandy Logan described the offenders as "self entitled grubs who don't give a rats arse about anyone but themselves".
Robert Harman also wrote: "If you want to do something...demand that the council stops giving them free food ..police should stop them illegal camping, offer them no services and they will move on."
On the sympathetic side, Abbie Lala wrote: "I think an outreach group to help people that want it is the best approach. Government services to help people struggling or homeless are diminished to the point of non-existence. Maybe open a Lentil As Anything in Byron, feeding people decent food and providing acceptance is a great way to start."
Jade Weatherill: "Respecting land is not homelessness. These are two different issues. The gov stops giving homes because it costs too much to clean homes which people trash, which spoils it for us who are on a wait list and super clean."
Grant Gregor wrote: "Most people who are homeless are suffering from mental illness and addiction. Living on the street is rough and often a battle for survival. There is virtually no government funding for groups such as the Byron Community Centre to assist with these welfare issues."