26 March 2020

Caravan parks meet an urgent need for people with few choices in COVID-19 crisis

| Lisa Herbert
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The deserted beaches at Tathra Beachside, normally enjoyed by tourists at this time of year. Photo: David Rogers

Deserted sand at Tathra Beachside which is normally enjoyed by tourists at this time of year. Photo: David Rogers.

A majority of Australian travellers are returning home and many businesses, including hotels, accommodation providers and restaurants are closing their doors. But some people are still in urgent need of accommodation, often because they cannot return to their homes

Carmen Risby runs Tathra Beachside holiday park on the Sapphire Coast, and is well known in the community for her vitality and compassion.

With a normal capacity of 600, there are currently around 60 people staying in the seaside park. “Many have packed up today after the announcement,” said Ms Risby. However, she and her team have decided to stay open.

“It’s never black and white, a decision like this,” she said. “But there are thousands of people registered as travelling around Australia at the moment, many of who have let or sold their homes.

“There are also thousands who have lost their homes in the recent bushfires, and we are now seeing nurses and other healthcare workers moving into the Bega Valley.

“All these people need to be accommodated in clean surroundings where they can also keep safely isolated.”

Ms Risby said she is not taking the decision to stay open lightly. “Our staff have undergone COVID-19 training. We are all certified and have put strategies in place.”

A representative of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia (CIA) said, “It is clear from the Prime Minister’s announcement last night that a staged lockdown is needed to manage the spread of COVID-19. For now, caravan parks are considered essential services and shall remain open.

“We’ve already seen travel restrictions for people entering Tasmania, Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia, and we’re awaiting statements from premiers in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales in the coming days.”

The CIA also confirms “there are currently around 75,000 people in Australia today away from their normal place of residence, or using an RV as their permanent home”.

“This is on top of the tens of thousands who call caravan parks home. It is vital that caravan parks remain an essential service to give individual operators the ability to make their own decision about whether to open or otherwise.”

Tathra Beachside will stay open for those who are displaced, and for health workers in need. Photo: David Rogers

Tathra Beachside will stay open for people who are displaced and for health workers in need. Photo: David Rogers.

Ms Risby says she spends much of her time evaluating each booking and enquiry, including an in-depth discussion with her team about any individuals’ situation and possible special needs.

“We have local people who have already been through a catastrophic event with the bushfires,” she said. “They are displaced people who have chosen to stay near their communities.

“We now have a group of health workers coming to the Bega Valley to staff Bega’s [South East Regional Hospital] COVID-19 clinics who need accommodation that adheres to all the COVID-19 rules and regulations. These nurses can’t be housed together, so they need separate, clean, self-contained units. And there will be more needs like this as the situation changes. I feel this is just the beginning.

“We could close down, stand down all staff, and still only maybe survive, or we could diversify and become part of the survival and road to recovery.”

Ms Risby added that staying open brings implications and extra costs, but she wants to be “human and kind”.

The difficulties the nationwide travel restrictions have caused to business, and the potential future interruptions on the back of an already devastating summer of bushfires will wreak havoc on NSW tourism industries.

In Tathra, like much of the South Coast, businesses are still reeling from the 2019-2020 fires. Some are still without permanent homes due to the fires that took place in March 2018.

“I haven’t heard anything from the government regarding homelessness generally,” said Ms Risby. “How do we keep vulnerable people safe, and stop them having to go out into our community? If these people were identified and we could help, even if it cost us to do so, we would.”

To those in our local community who may be in need, Ms Risby said, “Our doors are open to local people, but we have strict policies to which you must adhere. We will help where we can; we will help minority groups and those displaced. We will most certainly step up.”

Tathra Beach caravan park has released a statement clarifying their position: “In direct response to reducing the risk of COVID-19, we’re changing the way we do things. We are accepting bookings to meet the needs of essential travellers ONLY.

“We are doing everything we can to help flatten the curve & keep you, our team & our community safe”, the statement says.

“Please reschedule your booking if you have travelled from a country that is at high or moderate risk of COVID-19, or if the booking is for non-essential travel.Please keep a safe physical distance from staff, other guests & community members. 1.5m is recommended.

“When you check in at reception or purchase essentials, keep 1.5m distance and don’t lean on our counter. We have a limit of three guests in reception at a time, so wait outdoors in fresh air and sunshine.

“Choose activities you can do with your family in the privacy of your room, cabin, caravan or tent such as board games, cards, reading or watching movies, rather than in communal areas.

We have postponed all of the park’s non-essential activities. We have relaxed our postponement policy to help you”.

If you or someone you know needs to discuss housing during the COVID-19 outbreak, contact Mission Australia here, or call (02) 6491 2300, or go to the Bega Valley Shire Council information page here.

To contact Tathra Beachside, visit their website here.

If you have a caravan or other mobile accomodation you could donate to someone, contact the Social Justice Advocates here.

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Amanda Midlam8:52 pm 26 Mar 20

Very humane. Good on them for staying open under such special circumstances

Jillian Heffernan7:07 pm 26 Mar 20

Many small business are still open for people looking for accomodation. We are all trying

Dr Douglas Simper9:23 am 26 Mar 20

Carmen is a Tathra Angel! The government have passed many edicts but it is totally inconsistent because they have not allowed for special situations eg homelessness and unemployment. Hairdressers are considered essential and yet accomodation is not.

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