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Homelessness on the rise in Byron Bay


Northern Rivers Corps Officer Captain Philip Sutcliffe is organising initiatives such as the food pantry to combat disadvantage in the area as a result of both the floods and cost of living crisis.

By KIRRALEE NICOLLE

When catastrophic floods devastated the NSW Northern Rivers region in February 2022, the widespread loss of houses and livelihoods left many people struggling. Almost 18 months later, the damage is still being felt in the area, according to Northern Rivers Corps Officer Captain Philip Sutcliffe.


The most recent New South Wales Street Count released on 22 June showed a 117 per cent increase in homelessness in Byron Bay from the previous February. This region also contained the highest number of people sleeping rough in the state. However, due to the extreme weather events at the time of the last Street Count, these figures may not fully represent the 2022 numbers.


Philip said between the aftermath of flooding, reduced housing availability and the skyrocketing cost of living pressures, it was difficult to pinpoint which were the primary factors in the increase. He said those displaced by the flooding were also quite transient, which meant they sometimes gravitated to the bay from other parts of the region to spend the night.


“We’ve got a lot of people that are somewhat transient because they might be working on their places to rebuild and restore but sleeping in a vehicle at night because that’s the safe, warm, dry place at the moment,” Philip said. “Even 16-17 months on from the flood, a lot of people in our community have been in limbo because the government’s been talking about buybacks and land swaps, and so people have been waiting for answers on that.


“And, so, people are going, ‘I’ve been living in limbo-land in my car, in my caravan, in temporary accommodation. After 16 months, I could have had most of my house renovated and restored had I known that I’m not going to be eligible for a buyback, which I always thought I was.’”


The Northern Rivers Corps is offering a food pantry in the region, which was devastated by the worst flooding in Australia since 1974.

The boutique beachside town of Byron Bay saw a significant increase in house and rental prices over the past several years, according to realestate.com.au.


Philip said staff at the corps were seeing an increase in dual-income families looking for assistance. He said many who were flood-affected were paying a mortgage and rent concurrently while they tried to rebuild. He said some moved to the area believing it would be a positive lifestyle change without realising costs were higher than they could handle.


“It’s one of the most expensive places to live in NSW,” Philip said. “It’s a tourist community, so everyday things are priced for that tourist market.”


He said there was another factor contributing to rising house prices.


“There are a lot more places [being listed] online, but the difficulty for landlords and homeowners is that they’ve had to fork out of their own pocket to renovate these places and rebuild them in a flood-resilient way,” Philip said. “The prices are quite high because they’ve had to invest all of this money without government support or backup. So, places that probably wouldn’t have been this price prior to the flood are now this price because it costs the landlords a lot of money to rebuild their places, put them back together and get them ready to be on the market.


“So, you have then got that effect on the bigger picture as well.”


Philip said he and his wife, fellow corps officer Captain Donna Sutcliffe, were partnering with local initiatives and organisations to deliver assistance in the area as their corps building was located a significant distance from the Byron Bay area. He said they were also working with the local council to find longer-term solutions.


Visit the MySalvos Homelessness Week toolkit at: https://my.salvos.org.au/homelessness-week-toolkit-2023/









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