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Forgotten flood victims are still struggling

IN LIMBO: Jeremy Marsh with his son Cooper at their temporary accommodation in Goonellabah since the flood.
IN LIMBO: Jeremy Marsh with his son Cooper at their temporary accommodation in Goonellabah since the flood. Marc Stapelberg

WHEN water started gushing through Jeremy Marsh's rental unit in low-lying Lismore early on Friday March 31, he never thought he would end up homeless.

Mr Marsh had stacked all his possessions and furniture on his kitchen bench assuming the flood might rise a metre and a half at most. It rose much further.

"I evacuated my kids, and they were the main thing, but when we got the message from the SES there just wasn't much time to do much else."

"We had to sleep wherever we could knowing we had lost everything. It was devastating."

The record flood destroyed 40 years worth of the father of two's possessions including precious photos of his children.

Then two days later he was informed his lease was terminated because his unit was uninhabitable.

Now, almost five months on, the father of two is still without a permanent home.

He is also not alone. At least 35 households are still in temporary lodging as a result of the Cyclone Debbie flood across Lismore and Murwillumbah, according to North Coast Community Housing.

Three weeks after the flood Mr Marsh was able to secure short-term accommodation in a tiny granny flat until he found his feet, but it's far from ideal.

His son Cooper, 16, has moved into the 15sqm bungalow to support him. His daughter, 13-year-old Tahlie, stays at her mother's because there is no room with dad.

Mr Marsh is more vulnerable than most. Eight years ago the former skilled labourer had a devastating workplace accident which crushed his left foot and lower leg and left him in permanent chronic pain.

Now 43, he relies on a crutch to walk, can no longer work in his chosen career, and struggles with depression over the injury.

Losing his home and possessions was another gut wrenching blow.

"Everything's up in the air and I just live day by day at the moment," he said.

North Coast Community Housing CEO John McKenna said the the disruption to flood victims' lives had created a lot of hidden "mental anguish".

"A lot of these people don't complain, they just go about their business," he said.

"They're quite stoic, and probably wonder quietly about how their situation is going to be resolved."

NCCH has just received $1.85 million in funding from NSW Department of Family and Community Services to subsidise accommodation for those affected by the flood.

Mr McKenna said it was urgent to find any available rental properties as soon as possible. Landlords are offered full market rent and NCCH is the head tenant so rent is guaranteed.

Mr Marsh, who is looking for a three bedroom home or unit, said he and his children were "praying" every day something would come up.

Property owners and the flood-affected homeless are asked to contact NCCH urgently on 6627 5300.

Topics:  editors picks homeless northern rivers flood northern rivers natural disaster



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