Areas across northern NSW are seeing an influx in homelessness which is set to worsen due to the Commonwealth Games. (ABC News: Elloise Farrow-Smith)
There are fears homelessness in Northern New South Wales will increase due to the Commonwealth Games, beginning next month across the border on the Gold Coast.
It comes amid calls from a leading charity for the State Government to call a “housing crisis summit” to address the high rates of homelessness across NSW.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show the number of homeless people living in the Tweed Shire jumped by 44 per cent over a five-year period.
The number of people identifying as homeless in the region jumped from 308 to 444 between 2011 and 2016.
The figures are expected to climb even higher as the Commonwealth Games forces people living rough on the Gold Coast to find alternative shelter.
St Vincent De Paul in Lismore said it was struggling to cope with the influx of young people needing help in recent months.
Spokeswoman Linda Williams said Commonwealth Games preparation had restricted access to some popular rough-sleeping spots.
“People that are experiencing homelessness are sleeping rough, often in parks or around park areas, river banks perhaps, often living out of their vehicles,” she said.
“But because of the Commonwealth Games these areas are no longer accessible to those people who are sleeping rough.”
Homelessness in Byron Bay has increased 17 per cent in five years. (ABC News: Elloise Farrow-Smith)
But Queensland Housing Minister Mick de Brenni said no-one had forced homeless people to move south.
“No-one has been asked to move on until such time as they’re required to have a ticket,” he said.
“People have made their own decisions because of all the activity happening on the Gold Coast to start moving away to places like northern New South Wales.”
Homeless numbers in Byron Bay unsustainable
ABS figures show in the Byron Shire there were 327 people who classified themselves as homeless in 2016, an increase of more than 17 per cent since 2011.
The general manager of the Byron Bay Community Centre said there had been a sharp spike in the number of homeless sleeping on the streets of the town’s CBD.
Paul Spooner said there were usually about 150 to 200 rough sleepers in the area on any given night.
But he said that number had increased markedly in recent weeks.
“The numbers of people using shopfronts as camping spots of a night time, and also on footpaths, I would say it’s not unusual to see 50-60 people doing that of a night time,” he said.
“And that is far too many to be sustainable.”
St Vincent de Paul is calling for a housing crisis summit to address high rates of homelessness across the state. (Tim Wimborne: Reuters)
Young and old falling through the cracks
Homelessness across NSW jumped by 37 per cent from 2011 to 2016, according to the ABS figures, prompting charities to call on the State Government to take urgent action.
The ABS figures showed the rate of estimated homelessness increased from 40 in every 10,000 people in 2011 to 50 in every 10,000 in 2016.
New South Wales CEO of the St Vincent De Paul Society Jack de Groot said the State Government was not taking the issue seriously.
“We really have what needs to be understood as a crisis,” Mr de Groot said.
“We have a government who in the form of the premier has come to office with a commitment to the issue of housing in this state over a year ago and little to show other than actual deterioration in the numbers.”
Mr de Groot said the Government needed to call a housing crisis summit involving community housing providers, NGOs and developers to make “clear decisions about a sustainable solution to this housing crisis throughout the state”.
“What’s gone wrong here is a failure to read the tea leaves that we have all been showing to government,” he said.
“We’ve been showing them that we’ve seen, as service providers, an increase in the numbers of those who have insecurity around their housing.”
He said the new data painted a shocking picture of homelessness in the state, increasing across age and geographic demographics.
“It is unacceptable that we continue on as normal when we know that more and more of our young people and far too many elderly women are falling into homelessness at rates never seen before — this should not be the type of norm that we accept.
“We face profound and complex problems and we need the government to look at serious solutions.”
NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and Social Housing Pru Goward said the new data revealed “emerging issues” that would require investigation.
“Reducing homelessness is a priority for the NSW Government,” she said in a statement.
“Our current investment in homelessness services and programs, which is a record investment, has increased by 43 per cent over four years.”