What are we doing about homelessness in Byron Shire?

It’s Homelessness Week 2020 – but what is Council’s role when it comes to helping homeless people, and what is being done?

“Homelessness and rough sleeping is something Byron Shire Council has been well aware of and working hard on for many years now – to draw attention to our Shire’s need for social housing and support services to assist our most vulnerable people,” Council’s Director Corporate & Community Services, Vanessa Adams said.

Heatmap data released on the Everybody’s Home website this week (for Homelessness Week) shows that tourism focussed federal electorates along the north coast, such as Richmond, which covers Byron Shire, were already experiencing some of the highest rent stress and social housing shortages in Australia – and have also been heavily impacted by job losses as a result of COVID-19.

“Homelessness is not something normally tackled by Councils because the management of housing and support services is overseen by state and federal agencies,” Ms Adams said.

“However, as our community knows, it has been a growing issue for us, exacerbated by COVID-19 but also by a range of other factors such as a lack of local social housing and outreach services, and massive increases in short-term holiday-letting which have depleted permanent rental availability and contributed to a lack of affordable housing.

“Last year, we employed two experienced Public Space Liaison Officers (PSLO) who are on the ground building relationships with our most vulnerable people and providing a respectful and compassionate response on behalf of our community.

“These officers, along with senior staff and local partners, have been strengthening ties with State Government agencies in charge of providing outreach services and housing pathways and we are starting to see some local changes from this work we’re doing together,” she said.

Council partnered with local services and volunteers to conduct its own homelessness Street Count in September 2018, the first of its kind in regional NSW, and it identified 145 people who were sleeping on our streets – a number in line with what you might expect to find in a metropolitan area. In August 2019, that number was 171.

On the back of Council and the local community’s lead, the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), rolled out its first State-wide count in February 2020. In Byron Shire 174 people were identified, by far the highest number in the entire State outside Sydney.

Having reached out nationally in search of solutions, Byron Shire is partnering with the End Street Sleeping Collaboration to be the first regional area in NSW to pilot the Institute for Global Homelessness approach to ending rough sleeping – which has seen success both nationally and internationally.

“We believe, and evidence suggests, that ending homelessness is possible,” Ms Adams said.

“Our work with outreach services and government agencies will help create pathways out of homelessness – ending rough sleeping in Byron Shire – that is what we are aiming for,” she said.

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