A total of 30 volunteers from Byron Shire Council, local homelessness services and the Byron community hit the streets in the very early hours of Tuesday and Wednesday morning last week to collect data on the number of people sleeping rough around the Byron Shire.
The count coincided with Homelessness Week 2019, which aims to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed for solutions.
“We know we have a big issue with homelessness and rough sleeping in the Byron Shire and that’s why we initiated a street count last year, to collect data and demonstrate our urgent need for assertive outreach services and supported accommodation here,” Council’s Director Corporate and Community Services, Vanessa Adams said.
“While Byron may be perceived as an affluent Shire, the data collected last year revealed 145 people were sleeping rough.
“This week we have counted 171 people rough sleeping which is an 18 percent increase on last year and definitely of concern.
“Australian Bureau of Statistics data confirms that our Shire’s per capita rates of homelessness are the highest in the region and twice the national average.
“With a lack of housing and a lack of funding, Council is advocating for stronger State Government investment for the Byron Shire, especially in locally-based assertive outreach services which are currently non-existent,” Ms Adams said.
The rough sleeping count is a collaborative research project between Byron Shire Council and community service providers in the Shire. The count focusses on rough sleeping in three central areas in Byron Bay, Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby.
All volunteers participating in the rough sleeping count this week have received training to perform the observation tasks in a sensitive manner.
“Once the data is collected, we compile it and prepare a report that will be used to advocate for outcomes that improve the lives of people sleeping rough – some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
“Street count data also informs Council strategies and is shared with partner organisations and the local community.
“Homelessness is a really complex issue in the Byron Shire and the cost of housing is high – perhaps that is why we’ve missed out on government funding in the past.
“But that doesn’t help the people who are homeless. We need to work together across our borders so that we can all offer assertive outreach services and practical solutions to people sleeping rough, wherever they may be across our region.
“We know that not as many people sleep rough in winter as they do in summer, so our next step is to conduct a summer count, to give us a more accurate picture of what is happening across the whole year and that will be conducted in February 2020,” Ms Adams said.