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Hidden shame in iconic tourist town

Written by on May 10, 2024

The number of people sleeping rough in Byron Bay has spiked and it remains the NSW council area with the most people sleeping on the streets.

The massive annual survey and count of people sleeping on the streets across NSW was carried out in February.

World-famous Byron Bay hosted 348 people sleeping rough, up 16 per cent on last year. The City of Sydney area had 208 in this year’s count.

Statewide, the month-long count found 2037 rough sleepers.

About two-thirds of people are sleeping in vehicles, and 18 per cent sleep out in the open.

About 10 per cent were counted in a tent or makeshift dwelling, and 8 per cent in public roofed spaces.

Byron Shire Mayor Michael Lyon said even if land was obtained for free, houses could not be built cheap enough for low-income residents.

Byron Shire has the most homeless people of all councils in the state.

“It’s very distressing, but we expected that,” Mr Lyon said.

This financial year the state government has assigned $11m to the Byron, Ballina, Clarence Valley, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed council areas.

The council built a public hot shower and there were “great” volunteer services, but building houses was simply too expensive, Mr Lyon said.

Research has Byron Bay suburbs are some of the most expensive to rent in the country.

The most sought after areas of Byron Bay can demand 60 per cent of a renter’s income. More than $3800 per week was needed for rent in some Byron suburbs to live comfortably, research by tax depreciation surveyors MCG Quantity Surveyors found this year.

Mr Lyon wants changes to the federal government’s social and affordable housing fund.

The $10bn Housing Australia Future Fund should be divided into capital cities and elsewhere, the he said.

Statewide, the number of people counted in the rough sleepers survey has been increasing each year since 2021, though the number of council areas included has also gone up.

But guidelines for the street count mean the numbers could well be higher; counters are told to not go into any squats or temporary structures to count people. If a counter cannot tell how many people are in a car or tent, they are told to count the dwelling as one person sleeping rough.

The count also covered only 76 of the state’s 128 local government areas.

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