Plight of homeless in Bega Valley brings councillors to agreement on need for housing action

Mick Brosnan told council transitional and crisis housing is needed to stop people having to live in their cars, on the beaches or under the bridge.
Mick Brosnan told council transitional and crisis housing is needed to stop people having to live in their cars, on the beaches or under the bridge.

The plight of homeless people sleeping rough in the streets, desperate families asking for help, and workers unable to accept a job in the Bega Valley because they can't find a home, prompted agreement on a multi-lateral approach at the August 4 council meeting.

The agreement followed a fierce and passionate address by president of the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast (SJASC) Mick Brosnan, who reminded the councillors of the number of times he had brought the matter to their attention.

The SJASC has a 11 caravans in use for the homeless, outside of the 70 caravans provided for bushfire-affected residents.

"There are 11 vans out there tonight sleeping the homeless. It's not good enough; we've been here so often. We are developing concepts for social housing but what I want to know is what is happening tonight. You go and sleep in a van tonight - it's bloody cold," Mr Brosnan said as he urged councillors to accept the motion.

The agreement by council to recognise the lack of short-term and affordable housing, as a crisis, has been welcomed by Cr Cathy Griff who amended her motion in order to secure a unanimous vote.

It was something Cr Griff had wanted to see happen since she joined council in 2016, she said.

Council has to come up with something concrete. This recognised as a crisis situation.

Cr Cathy Griff

"Regional Australia used to be an answer for affordable housing, now we're steeped in the problem too," Cr Griff said.

While the motion agreed by council calls on the Australian and NSW governments to address the increasing housing crisis in the shire and across much of regional NSW, it also lists some more immediate and tangible issues which could provide some small but more immediate assistance.

These include the mayor and CEO liaising with the owners of the former St Josephs Catholic School, Eden with a view to having the old school provide a short term temporary accommodation option for homeless persons, following a suggestion by Cr Robyn Bain.

Mr Brosnan said it was a disgrace to have it sitting there empty.

Council agreed that in the very short term seek there should be discussions with other caravan parks within the shire who may be able to allow SJASC vans to remain onsite for greater than three months.

A young homeless couple has recently had to move out of an SJASC van in a local caravan park, because they had been there for three months - the maximum time allowed.

The agreement included looking for other appropriate opportunities to encourage social and affordable future subdivisions developments to come before the shire.

There are several components to the housing problem; crisis accommodation, transitional accommodation, social and affordable housing and a lack of rental stock for those being offered jobs in the shire.

What happens if the Roy Wotton facility in Eden closes. There are 13 independent rooms which would be ideal for transitional housing. I'm not saying buy it, but lobby, see what is available.

President of the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast Mick Brosnan.

Council is asking Southern Cross Housing to accelerate the program for the maintenance on existing social housing stock to allow occupancy.

Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick said the compounding effect of the Black Summer bushfires and the flexibility of remote working is placing extra pressure on an already stretched housing market.

"Too many people in our community are finding it extraordinarily tough to find somewhere to live, and for people hoping to move to our shire to take up job opportunities, their options are extremely limited," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

"I've heard of locals who can't find a place to park their caravan, let alone find a house to live in.

"I've heard of people not being able to accept a job, because they can't find somewhere to live.

"Council is developing an affordable housing strategy, making changes to zoning to facilitate more housing and assessing a high volume of development applications for new housing, but we can't solve this problem on our own-we need the Australian and NSW governments to step in.

"We're calling on the Australian government to increase funding for social and affordable housing, including expansion of the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

There was also a call for the state government to work with Local Aboriginal Land Councils to support use of Aboriginal land for Aboriginal housing and economic development. Casuarina which Sapphire Coast Community Aged Care Ltd sold to Katungal in 2019, was mentioned as a property that could be better used.

"What happens if the Roy Wotton facility in Eden closes. There are 13 independent rooms which would be ideal for transitional housing. I'm not saying buy it, but lobby, see what is available," Mr Brosnan urged council.

Council will now write to the Australian government Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Housing, and the NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing seeking support, investment and policy changes to help address the critical shortage of affordable housing.

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