14 January 2021

Caravans plugging holes in South Coast housing crisis

| Kim Treasure
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Dianne Beckett and Mick Brosnan holding copy of ‘Liferaft’ book.

Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast secretary Dianne Beckett and chairperson Mick Brosnan hold Liferaft, the book written by GJ Maher that details efforts made to provide caravans to homeless people in the Bega Valley Shire. Photo: Supplied.

A NSW Far South Coast group that has provided 65 caravans to people made homeless by the Black Summer bushfires says its resources are being overwhelmed by demand for housing in the region.

The Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast (SJASC) says there is an urgent need for both transitional and sustainable long-term social housing in Bega Valley Shire, with many people in danger of being left behind as the government and community turns its attention to COVID-19 related issues.

“The situation was dire in late-2019 and was then made far worse by the Black Summer bushfires,” said SJASC chairperson Mick Brosnan. “Government assistance, while appreciated, is often hampered by procedure and slow to arrive, and the situation remains desperate.”

He said agencies in neighbouring Eurobodalla Shire are expressing identical concerns.

READ ALSO Myriad factors contribute to coastal housing shortage

Almost 1000 homes were lost across the two shires during the Black Summer bushfires.

“The recent NSW budget was a big letdown, with $812 million allocated to social housing, but none of this for our region,” said Mr Brosnan.

“Fifty-five per cent was targeted to metro areas, the closest to us being Goulburn. By contrast, Victoria has a $5 billion package to address post-COVID-19 housing and employment needs.

“Bega Valley should have a dedicated social housing program delivering not just homes, but also the jobs we urgently need.”

Mr Brosnan said many regional jobs were completely dependent on the hospitality sector, leaving Bega Valley Shire inherently vulnerable with districts affected unevenly.

SJASC secretary Dianne Beckett agreed existing schemes left large service delivery gaps.

“We continue to receive pleas for housing from services which are overwhelmed,” she said. “The services report that their only option is to offer a tent or swag, or suggest the person leave the area. They have seen large families crammed in motel rooms, caravans, and some sleeping rough in tents.

“Many don’t register for help as they’ve just given up.”

Mr Brosnan said housing should not be a party political issue.

“It is encouraging to hear [Member for Bega] Andrew Constance admit the need to get people out of caravans into homes,” he said, adding the local council also acknowledges problems, calling on landlords to rent vacant holiday homes to permanent tenants.

“We’re calling on local, state and federal government to work closely with local agencies to address this crisis.”

Mr Brosnan said organisations such as the SJASC work hard to provide transitional relief, but their resources are always stretched and are currently overwhelmed.

READ ALSO Eurobodalla Bushfire Recovery Support Service extended until December 2021

“Homelessness affects everything – health, education and mental wellbeing,” he said. “Tragically, there are sometimes those we just can’t help. This is clearly a formal government responsibility, at all tiers, but it’s a responsibility which is not being realised.

“To date, SJASC has provided 65 caravans to people made homeless by the bushfires, as well as continuing to find shelter for those made homeless for many other reasons, including job loss or a health crisis.”

SJASC has been working to combat homelessness for almost a decade, but the current situation is unprecedented.

“Our community is resilient, but if we don’t have transitional housing then we are at a complete loss in terms of getting people’s lives back on track,” said Ms Beckett.

“Here [in Bega], in the Eurobodalla, in the mountains around Bombala, and in other areas that were impacted by bushfire, we didn’t get the chance to recover before COVID-19 hit. Now the focus has come off and it’s becoming more and more of a crisis.”

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