Debate rages over homeless shelter site

The South Lismore Progress Association (SLPA) and Lismore City councillor Graeme Meineke are pushing to have the homeless shelter proposed for South Lismore moved to a Council-owned building in the CBD.

The call comes after a public forum in South Lismore on Monday night, attended by around 50 people who were divided over the issue.

Those opposed to the homeless shelter, a male-only facility housing up to 12 people on a site adjacent to the Lismore Soup Kitchen, say its not about the concept but the location.

Terry Beadle, SLPA treasurer, said spending $300,000 to build a shelter on land Council only has a five-year lease for is ludicrous and its hard to believe Council has not investigated any other sites.

The SLPA believes a Council-owned building on the corner of King and Rural Lanes is a much more appropriate location.

The site Cr Meineke has found fits Councils criteria perfectly. It is about 50 metres from the Red Dove, where they serve breakfast for homeless people, and its not near residential areas, Mr Beadle said. Its Council-owned land so the shelter would be permanent. To spend all that money only to abandon it five years down the track is a huge cost to ratepayers.

This building is also large enough to house more than 12 people and, with the money youd save on building a new shelter, you could offer other facilities such as counselling rooms and give some money to the Soup Kitchen for improvements. This is an ideal opportunity for Council to do something really good for the community and do it right.

Mr Beadle said Cr Frank Swientek informed him Council planned to demolish the building and construct a car park.

Are Council really going to put cars before people? Mr Beadle said. Cr Swientek said before it was fenced off homeless people were sleeping under it, so it would make sense to create a permanent shelter there.

However, Lismore Homeless Shelter Working Party member Cr Jenny Dowell said the proposed location had been chosen specifically because of its proximity to the Soup Kitchen and because the land was being leased to Council free of charge by the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

Theres a possibility we may have to move it after five years, but theres equally a possibility it may stay for there many years, Cr Dowell said. One of the conditions of building on the South Lismore site is that no permanent structure can be erected, so the buildings we propose would be pre-fabricated and could be moved easily. The figures for the South Lismore site are a responsible way for Council to use ratepayers money.

Homeless people are already gathering around the Soup Kitchen and it seems logical to erect a homeless shelter on that site too. We dont want to discount the concerns and fears of South Lismore residents, but its Councils responsibility to make sure policy and procedures put in place for the shelter minimise risks and maximise the amenity for both residents and homeless people.

During the public forum

South Lismore resident Gordon Fraser-Quick urged those opposed to the shelter not to get bogged down in minutiae as the nitty gritty details would be dealt with during the DA process and there would still be time for community input.

He implored residents to accept there was a need for a shelter in South Lismore and give Council a chance to make a real difference in the lives of homeless people.

His words were met with robust applause.

This community needs to deal with these people as humans, not as sub humans, not as animals that need to be shoved off somewhere else. We need to deal with this in a pragmatic, honest and open manner, and not try to pick holes in the birthday cake and say we dont like the way the sponge looks with that hole there or I dont like the colour of the hundreds and thousands, Mr Fraser-Quick said. Council already runs a multi-million dollar business to provide waste services to prevent us from all getting ill, water services to make sure that we can all drink, road services to make sure we can all travel. They already have expertise, they already have staff and they already have processes in place to make sure the whole community benefits. Please, lets focus on the needs of these people and not on our own needs... these people exist, they are our brothers, our cousins, our sisters.

A DA for the shelter is being finalised and will be lodged in May.

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