It is known for its eclectic mix of millionaires, surfers and hippies, but Byron Bay also has the highest number of rough sleepers in New South Wales outside of Sydney.
Byron Bay Community Centre Community Services Manager Cat Seddon works on the frontline with the town’s homeless population and said many of them did not fit the stereotype of a dishevelled older man.
She said service providers were seeing increasing numbers of women on the street.
“There have been some interesting trends recently, one of them would be ‘working poor’ women either at risk of homelessness or homeless,” she said.
“They’re women who are working full-time, with children in school, earning reasonable incomes but unable to afford rent in the area.
“There’s a lot of competition for every rental property that comes up — my colleague was looking for somewhere to rent recently and at the inspection there were 70 people there.
“As a single woman, it’s really hard to get a look-in.”
Ms Seddon said many of the women were over 50 years old.
“One of the fastest-growing demographics of homelessness is middle-aged women and I think there are several reasons, one of them is relationship breakdowns,” she said.
“After a relationship may breakdown, the woman may not have skills for employment after being a homemaker, they don’t have super to access, they may lose the family home and if they can’t make the income to rent they can end up being homeless.”
Ms Seddon also said those relationship breakdowns were often a result of domestic violence.
She said the centre had helped 12 women fleeing from domestic violence so far this year, compared to none in 2015.
“We’re currently working with one particular woman on the run who turned up here with four children and has been living in a tent,” she said.
“This is quite new for us, having so many presentations of women fleeing domestic violence.”
Ms Seddon said she was also seeing increasing numbers of women in search of accommodation after completing rehabilitation programs in northern New South Wales.
“They might be in rehabilitation centres in the area, then they leave those and there’s a lot of encouragement to stay in the area for support,” she said.
“But they exit into Byron Bay and with one of the highest unemployment levels in the state plus housing affordability crisis we’re experiencing, many of those women end up sleeping in their cars.”
Ms Seddon said no-one was encouraged to leave town, but service providers felt obliged to let people know about the lack of accommodation, high rents and unemployment in the area.
She said life had also been made tougher for Byron Bay’s rough sleepers since the closure of a drop-in centre last year that housed the town’s only shower for the homeless.
“We’re very honest with people,” she said.
“If you’re on a Centrelink benefit, you will be cut off if you move from a higher employment area into Byron being a high unemployment area.
“We let people make their own decisions, but we try to make sure that they’re informed decisions for them.”
Source: ABC News