The Guardian • Issue #2071

The dark side of paradise

Poverty and homelessness on the Sunshine Coast


Photo: Bernard Spragg – (public domain).

The Sunshine Coast is two hours drive north of Brisbane. It is a collection of towns and farms extending from its famous beaches to the mountainous hinterland. The area has 9267 Traditional Custodians – the Kabi Kabi and Jinibara peoples. Most of the 400,000 people are Caucasian, with others born in the Pacific Islands, Maori, or India. The median weekly household income is $1,574. There are 177,206 private dwellings, and the median weekly rental for a unit is $440.

Hidden amongst these statistics are the 8560 unemployed, with 3000 listed as homeless. Yet there are 17,942 unoccupied private dwellings in the region. In some areas rent has increased by 45 per cent in the past year. There are calls for a cap on rental increases, but the state government and real estate lobby do not agree, wanting to leave rents to market forces. The influx of interstate arrivals searching for accommodation is aggravating an already tight rental market.

One in five children on the Coast live in poverty. Domestic violence and acute mental health issues worsen the problem of poverty and homelessness. Recent rental increases have forced people to live in their cars, couch surf, or live in tents.

The release last month of the Sunshine Coast Council’s Housing and Homeless Action Plan is supposed to provide ‘guidance and establish new initiatives directed at achieving a more secure housing future.’ Mayor Jamieson said, “Council recognises the housing crisis is a situation that is difficult to quickly rectify.” The Nambour showground is designated as a crisis shelter and the council has changed its tiny home and granny flat by-laws to allow more people to live in them. Camillo Primavera, from the My Place movement, said: “Right now, there are people living in tents and sleeping in cars.” They need immediate action from councils.

The Queensland government’s Emergency Relief Program provides vouchers for food parcels, transport and essential items and contributes to the payment of utility bills. Other emergency relief is provided by church groups, and charities. Many of the homeless are women and girls. Share the Dignity provides urgently needed period products donated by the public during their biannual Dignity Drive. Pastor Dale Dowler from the Shack said there has been a dramatic increase in people requiring food, referrals for electricity and gas, and other expenses. The charity Aus Living Support has helped 284 struggling families, providing them with up to $200 a week to meet mortgage or rental expenses. Aus Living Support CEO, Ian Harrison, told the Sunshine Coast Gazette: “We’re currently getting four applications a week for rental support. It’s not easing off.” The Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre raised $200,000 for two sleep buses to give some protection and safety to those desperately in need. It is not just the big towns that are facing problems. The impact of increased mortgages has produced a slowdown in tourism, hitting the small towns that survive on the tourist dollar.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Project, led by the Sunshine Coast Resource Centre and Cover the Coast, held Coming Together on Poverty forums to address the problem. The recommendations include creating a social planning council using private enterprise money. The Noosa Council is considering applications to build thirty-four small modular houses on a 2.5-hectare block at Cooroy, at a cost of $3 million. One solution is temporary homes, which are: tiny homes on wheels; motor home or recreational vehicles; bus or caravan; vehicle modified as a place of residence; and a tent with a floor area of less than 100 metres. The $514 application fee, plus requiring the property owner’s consent, makes this  a limited option.

Comrades of the Communist Party’s Sunshine Coast branch are well aware of these problems and are actively helping where we can. We have a proposed food hamper drop to those living on the streets of Nambour which has been especially hit by homelessness. The growing violence in the area makes homelessness even more dangerous, especially for women and girls. For many, things are tough in the Sunshine State.

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