Connections Week reveals realities of life on streets

Council’s recent Connections Week (16 – 23 November), which involved 50 trained volunteers from local services and the community collecting the stories of people sleeping rough in the Byron Shire, has provided valuable insights into life on the streets for 72 people surveyed as part of the Ending Street Sleeping Byron Shire initiative.

“The data has given us information about demographics, time sleeping rough, income and health and wellbeing, as well as people’s individual stories and the circumstances that led to their rough sleeping experience,” Council’s Director Corporate and Community Services, Vanessa Adams said.

“One in four people surveyed indicated that they had only been rough sleeping for one year or less, while 21 percent indicated they had been rough sleeping for more than 10 years – both concerning statistics that underline the importance of our collaborative work in this area.

“Around 40 percent of those surveyed reported that two or more circumstances had contributed to their entry into rough sleeping including not being able to find a house they could afford, relationship breakdown, family conflict and losing a job or not being able to find work.

“These findings are not overly surprising given some of the challenges we are facing with housing affordability in the Byron Shire but they also point to the collision of major life events like job losses and relationship issues being potential catalysts for homelessness.

“We are so grateful to the 72 people who shared their stories with our volunteers.

“Our next step is to support the five most vulnerable people we connected with through a coordinated approach.

“Once we’ve helped the first five people, we will continue with the next five and so on.

“Homelessness cannot be solved by Byron Shire Council alone, however, using the data gathered from Connections Week, we can work with the NSW State Government and other organisations to advocate for systemic change,” Ms Adams said.

“The case for change is clear – and we know what is needed. Funding and providing appropriate housing and targeted support to highly vulnerable people sleeping rough not only changes individual lives; it makes economic sense for our whole community as well,” Ms Adams said.

Byron Shire is the first area in NSW, outside Sydney, to pilot an internationally-renowned project aimed at drastically reducing and hopefully ending rough sleeping. The Ending Rough Sleeping Byron Shire project is a community-initiated collaboration that is supported by the state-wide organisation, the End Street Sleeping Collaboration.

This initiative is also part of the NSW Premier’s Priority Commitment to reduce rough sleeping by 50% by 2025 and end rough sleeping by 2030 – a target now shared by the Byron Shire.

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