Australia State caravan law an 'obstacle' for homeless bushfire victims

05:56  15 january  2020
05:56  15 january  2020 Source:   smh.com.au

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The Berejiklian government is being urged to quickly overhaul a little-known law that could prohibit people from using caravans as emergency accommodation, as it grapples to find temporary shelter for homeless bushfire victims.

Volunteer organisation Find A Bed, which was set up in response to the devastating fires that swept through the NSW South Coast on New Year's Eve, encountered the issue after it began receiving offers of donated caravans from people all over Australia.

The organisation's co-founder Erin Riley, a PhD communications student at the University of Technology, Sydney, said locals in the Batemans Bay area, where hundreds of homes were razed, were wary about falling fowl on the legal restrictions around caravan use.

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This state is made even more unstable by local laws that criminalize sleeping or camping in public places. While obtaining a driver's license or state -issued ID is free in most states , that doesn't mean it's easy for a homeless person to jump through the administrative hoops to make it happen.

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"Some people already own caravans or have access to caravans and just want to live on their land or nearby. In other cases, we have been offered donor caravans which people want to provide but can't as long as the regulations are the way they are," Ms Riley said.

The legislation states that people can only use caravans, campervans and tents without prior council approval for a maximum of two days at a time.  In total, they cannot occupy them for more than 60 days over a 12-month period.

The same regulation allows homeowners to have only one caravan or campervan on their land without prior council approval, "so long as it is used for habitation only by the owner or by members of the owner’s household and is maintained in a safe and healthy condition".

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A spokeswoman for Planning Minister Rob Stokes said work was "under way" to change the time limits on how long temporary accommodation can be used.

"We are committed to removing any obstacle or red tape that would get in the way of helping bushfire-affected communities to recover," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Riley said the response to their campaign, which publishes call-outs for help on social media, had been "unbelievable", with offers of assistance from across the country and overseas.

"Over 8500 people have registered with us saying they are happy to host people who have been affected by the fires," she said.

"We've had offers from as far away as Paris, Denver and Lebanon for holiday accommodation for a bit of respite once the worst is over. We even had a plumber from Iran contact us to say he wants to come here to offer his services for free to help people rebuild."

This week the volunteer group helped deliver a caravan to Aboriginal Elder Aunty Gloria, whose home in Mogo was destroyed. The caravan, which Aunty Gloria has parked on the local oval, had been donated by a family on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

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Greens MLC David Shoebridge, who wrote to the government raising the issue around caravan restrictions on Tuesday, said the regulations should be amended to allow mobile homes to be used for at least three months by those left homeless due to a natural disaster.

“We want to be encouraging people to share their homes and offer shelter and the law should not be an obstacle to this," he said.

It comes as the Berejiklian government on Tuesday urged owners of holiday homes to make their properties available to bushfire victims by listing them for rent.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who has stepped back from his cabinet duties to help his Bega electorate recover from the bushfires, said hundreds of South Coast locals had been displaced by the fires.

"We've got people living in caravan parks, hotel rooms, with neighbours, with friends, in sheds. We've got to get people placed and one solution to that is freeing up many coast homes that exist," Mr Constance said.

At Microsoft News Australia we've partnered with the giving platform Benevity to raise funds for Australian Red Cross, St Vincent De Paul Society and The Salvation Army; these organisations are helping communities across the country devastated by bushfires. You can help these organisations by donating here and for the latest news plus RFS and CFS links visit Bushfire emergency.

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