The death of a man in a makeshift camp at a Tweed Shire public park, has prompted calls for a designated area for homeless people to sleep without the threat of being fined.
The man, known only as Stevie, died on Friday in a park next to the Tweed River at Chinderah. His death is being investigated by police, but is not being treated as suspicious.
John Lee, who provides support for the region’s homeless people through his charity You Have A Friend, said Stevie had been homeless for about 10 years and was aged in his mid 50s.
Mr Lee said Stevie’s belongings had recently been set on fire and he had been told by police to move on after sleeping in his vehicle a few blocks away from the Chinderah park.
“Stevie did have a small trailer but kids burnt it down about eight Saturdays ago and that was everything that he had,” Mr Lee said.
“I felt so sorry for him the last time I saw him and I thought he’s got no chance of getting accommodation or a job.
“As a homeless guy he was very lonely and he hasn’t been well.”
On the morning Stevie died, about 15 people were sleeping in vehicles in the Chinderah park.
Mr Lee said they had congregated there after being moved on from nearby Cudgen Creek where Tweed Shire Council rangers had fined some of them $110 for overnight camping, and erected CCTV cameras to monitor the area.
“It could’ve been any of them, every year we lose people on the streets and it’s very sad because they die on their own just like this because they have nowhere to go,” he said.
“The next step, and they know it, is the same as Stevie.
“Eventually they won’t be able to run their vans and cars, they’re all facing a $110 fine here and if they’re found somewhere else tomorrow they’ll get another $110 fine.”
Council Defends Crackdown
Tweed Shire Council director of planning and regulation Vince Connell defended the recent crackdown on overnight camping in the region.
“The council is responding to quite significant concerns, particularly in relation to the area down near Cudgen Creek and Kingscliff,” he said.
“We’ve had significant complaints about rubbish, disgusting elements of excrement and toilet paper left in the park.
“Our residents have sent us many letters of concern and the council thought it was time to take some direct action and for that reason the council has had a recent targeted campaign in that area in order to try to ensure we’re getting an orderly use of the park.”
Mr Connell said surveillance cameras were necessary to provide footage that may be needed in court.
“There was a court matter lost by the council in the mid part of last year from a person who had stayed overnight and because the council had gone there at dusk and then again in the early morning the court did not believe there was sufficient evidence the person had stayed overnight,” Mr Connell said.
“That’s the reason why council has had to go to those lengths to make sure fines stand up in court and we don’t waste ratepayers’ money on appeals.”
He also said rangers had given many of the homeless people warnings before they were fined.
“On the ground, the council is definitely trying to work in a sensitive way in dealing with homeless people and trying to connect them to services,” Mr Connell said.
“There’s been plenty of pre-warning and they’ve been very sensitive in the way they’ve gone about it.”
Calls for Legal Campsite
Mr Lee said the Tweed Shire needed a site where homeless people could stay without the threat of fines.
“Let them have a place and charge them a nominal rent — they’ll pay it,” he said.
“Many of these people have paid taxes all of their life and they’re being treated like this.”
A statement from the Tweed Shire Council said a homeless campground was not a measure they had considered.
The statement also said homelessness was a State and Federal issue.
Mr Lee will meet with Tweed Mayor Katie Milne later this month to discuss his proposal.