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Homeless Byron Bay woman, Fiona, mourned, death sparks renewed calls for affordable housing

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 3 days ago
Friends say Fiona was a "colourful" woman with a "heart of gold". (Supplied: Liberation Larder) © Provided by ABC NEWS Friends say Fiona was a "colourful" woman with a "heart of gold". (Supplied: Liberation Larder)

The death of a well-known and beloved woman in Byron Bay has highlighted the plight of the region's homeless population.

Fiona, who was mostly known by her first name, was believed to be aged about 55.

A service provider said Fiona had been homeless, mostly sleeping rough, for at least a decade.

Her friend Rho, who had also been homeless for the last several years, said it was a devastating loss.

"She died before her time. It was very sudden and abrupt," she said.

Fiona had been sleeping in a tent in the Byron Bay area and regularly spoke to local community services and community members.

Her death was discovered some days later after her dog Tori was seen sitting outside her tent.

Tori has since been rehomed.

Fiona was remembered as a loud, opinionated but caring woman.

"She was very strong-willed woman. She was somebody who knew how to speak up for the things she needed ... but had a heart of gold," Rho said.

Rho, who did not want to give her last name, said Fiona was the latest casualty of a growing homelessness problem.

"There's a lot of people sleeping rough out there that are elderly people, people with disabilities," she said.

"I have a friend in a wheelchair [who has] been sleeping rough in the streets. He's an elder.

"Because of the housing crisis, people are forced out of their homes onto the street."

Rho is currently in temporary accommodation but said sleeping rough was a terrifying and stressful experience.

"It's basically living day to day not knowing if I'm going to survive the next day, sleeping in a bush and feeling completely vulnerable," she said.

"[I was] questioning if it's more humane for me to take my own life than to continue existing without there being any sort of pathway to a better outcome."

Repeated calls for more housing

Liz Jackson, the president of Liberation Larder, which provides food to homeless people in Byron Bay, knew Fiona.

Ms Jackson said Fiona's death reflected the difficulties facing the homeless.

"It [homelessness] does affect the quality of their life and obviously the longevity of their life because they do it pretty tough," she said.

Rental and property prices in the NSW Northern Rivers have been rising for years, and Byron Bay is one of Australia's most expensive property markets.

The housing crisis worsened after floods inundated thousands more homes and left many uninhabitable earlier this year.

Data released by the Everybody's Home campaign this week revealed rents on the North Coast had surged by 10.5 per cent each year for the last three years.

It showed more than two-thirds of people were experiencing rental stress in the Page electorate, which covers nearby Lismore, Casino and Grafton.

Support agency Social Futures called for more social and affordable housing and said 18,600 new homes were needed in the Northern Rivers.

Chief executive Tony Davies said the waiting list put already vulnerable people at risk.

"These are elderly people, parents with children escaping domestic violence and the like," he said.

"Everyone's joined a much longer queue, and it takes a lot longer to get to the top of that queue."

Ms Jackson said homelessness in Byron Bay often affected people who had lived in the area for many years or even their whole lives.

"These people don't want to leave town," she said.

"This is where they've grown up, this is where they're based."

Both Ms Jackson and Rho also both highlighted the need for more social and affordable housing.

"Our place as taxpayers in this country is to make sure people have got somewhere to live," Ms Jackson said.

"An adequate housing solution looks like we have more social housing available than people need," Rho said.

"As soon as somebody goes and reports that they're homeless, [I want for them to be] allocated somewhere … that is secure and adequate for their needs.

"I don't want anyone to be homeless or experience the things I've seen people experience or experienced myself."

 

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