Homeless call for change amid crackdown
THE spirit of Christmas did not extend to those sleeping rough on the Tweed this festive season, as Tweed Shire Council continued its crackdown on the homeless over the holidays.
Two homeless men, one in his 80s, each copped fines of $110 after they were found sleeping in their vehicles at Chinderah over Christmas.
The pair has joined leading homeless advocate John Lee, founder of homeless charity You Have a Friend, in urging council and the NSW Government to address the homeless crisis in the Tweed.
Long-term homeless man Bill Williamson, 82, has been without a fixed address for about 17 years and said things had become tougher of late.
"I went 15 years without one fine but now, they're cracking down harder and harder,” he said.
"It's unacceptable, what they're doing.”
He said fines for sleeping in his van paled in comparison to the anguish over what he felt was a broken system, concerned there was a resistance to building affordable communities for fear a surge in housing stock might impact on neighbouring property values.
He said the help of local volunteers had made a big difference to his life, but he was increasingly disillusioned with policy-makers.
"They are out to get the people who are homeless,” he said.
"They want us out of the way. But what they need to realise is there are hundreds more that will come in our place.”
Peter (surname withheld) was a successful businessman in Sydney for many years. But after the recession of the 1990s and an incident where he was run over by a motorcycle, he was left unable to work.
The 69-year-old has been homeless for the past six- and-a-half years and has been sleeping in his van on the Tweed. Originally from Greece, Peter felt it was a low blow to have "no support” from local, state or federal government despite many years as a taxpayer.
He has joined a long list of people waiting for public housing, but is looking at a wait of at least 10 years.
You Have a Friend founder Mr Lee said the council was operating against its own homelessness policy in handing out $110 fines for those sleeping in their cars, including over the Christmas period.
"Some of those vans have actually broken down just before Christmas,” he said.
The council began a crackdown on people sleeping rough last February, even installing mobile CCTV cameras along the Coast. Latest figures reveal at least 308 people are homeless on the Tweed at any one time - 7.2 per cent higher than the state average.
The situation was further worsened by the devastating floods of March 2017, which further reduced rental housing stock.
Tweed Shire Council general manager Troy Green noted the strain on services had "increased significantly with housing affordability becoming an increasing concern, and especially in light of the flood event in March 2017”.
Mr Green said some residents displaced during the flood, including some who had been sleeping on Chinderah Bay Dr at Chinderah and were identified by Mr Lee, had since been accommodated in social housing.
He said housing people in vehicles in residential streets was, in the long term, "not the best social outcome” for residents or "those in housing stress”.
But with extra funding since the floods and more homes on the horizon, Mr Green said there was hope ahead for the homeless.
He welcomed the state government's commitment of $12 million to bolster social and affordable housings in Northern NSW.
"Council is very pleased that the state government is currently in the process of constructing social housing in Boyd St, Tweed Heads,” Mr Green said.
"Prior to Christmas, council had a workshop with the newly-formed Landcom with a view to them entering the Tweed market in 2018. This would provide a mixture of social, affordable and retail accommodation.”
The State Government committed up to $12 million to bolster social and affordable housing supply in Northern NSW in May last year, in response to a shortage which followed the March flooding, with $10 million for the following three years also promised.
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