‘Just heartbreaking’: NSW flood victims face new struggle for accommodation amid holiday bookings
Residents in the coastal beach town of Evans Head have been making pleas on social media for out-of-towners to cancel any Easter holiday plans to visit the flood-ravaged region.
It follows recent reports of flood victims being forced to move out of Byron Bay to make way for holiday tourists.
Single mother-of-three Alysha Drylie told 9news.com.au her family was left homeless when the floods destroyed their rental property in Coraki on February 28.
“The first flood came through and the water was two metres high inside the house. We lost everything,” she said.
Ms Drylie and her three children, aged 9, 10 and 11, slept on the floor of a local church for days.
After almost a week, a worker from Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) Housing found the family a holiday rental unit to stay in at Evans Head.
The accommodation was being paid for through funding allocated to the housing department.
“We were able to stay there until March 31, when the real estate agent kicked us out because there were people coming for a holiday.”
DCJ Housing then found the family a cabin at Reflections Holiday Park in Evans Head.
Two days ago, the family were told they needed to move cabins within the caravan park because holiday makers had booked the cabin.
Ms Drylie said she was told her family could stay in their current cabin for three more days until April 7, but then they would need to leave.
The single mum said she did not know where they would go next.
“There aren’t many rental properties around here. It is just heartbreaking,” she said.
Having to move so many times had been hard on her children after the trauma of losing their home in the floods, Ms Drylie said.
“The kids are a bit lost and really confused,” she said.
“They don’t want to move any more, they are sick of moving.”
Ms Drylie said she hoped holidaymakers would reconsider coming to Evans Head for Easter.
“It would be nice if they could wait and delay their accommodation booking for another month, so people who are stuck without a house can have somewhere to sleep for the night,” Ms Drylie said.
In a statement, Reflections Holiday Park said they are continuing to support those impacted by the floods, while trying to honour holiday bookings.
“We recognise the devastating impact of the recent floods on people and communities throughout the North Coast,” the statement said.
“Our Ballina Holiday Park is currently being utilised as an emergency accommodation hub by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) to assist people who have been impacted by the floods.
“We continue to work with the DCJ to accommodate people who have been impacted by floods across our parks, including Evans Head, Shaws Bay and Lennox, while honouring existing holiday bookings, recognising that many small businesses in the impacted areas rely heavily on tourism.
“We will continue to work with our guests to meet their accommodation needs across our group of parks during this challenging time.”
No easy solutions
Both the town and beach at Evans Head had been pulverised by the floods, making it an unpleasant place to holiday at the moment anyway, Ms Drylie said.
“I don’t understand why people would want to holiday up here right now,” she said.
“The rivers and the beach are brown, it’s not clean water, it’s contaminated.
“Why would you want to go and fish? You can’t swim. You can’t go anywhere. The only place that you probably could go to is to a cafe to buy a coffee, if the power’s on.”
Om and Savita Jhorar also lost their home, near Woodburn, and all of their possessions in the flood.
The couple spent a night sleeping at a local high school before being offered a cabin at the Reflections Holiday Park.
Mr and Mrs Jhorar said they were told they could stay until March 21, however, on the morning of their wedding anniversary on March 17 they were given the news they needed to vacate their cabin for holiday makers.
“We had no place to go,” Mrs Jhorar said.
“The cleaning lady came and I was still packing.”
The couple were given a cabin at Camp Koinonia, where temporary accommodation for the flood-affected has been established.
“Ultimately we were transferred to a very basic accommodation with no power points and long walk for toilets and showers while raining,” Mr Jhorar said.
“I am on medication that requires me to use the toilet several times at night.
“It was so disappointing and disgusting that visitors travelling for fun are given priority over the disaster-affected people.”
Emergency services have estimated that up to 20,000 people are still displaced by flooding on the North Coast of NSW.
Real estate agent Brad Dicinoski, who is the principal at Evans Head First National, said all of his staff had been worked off their feet trying to help everyone needing accommodation in the town.
But the lack of local supply meant it was impossible to house everyone.
“I think accommodation providers and perhaps the owners and holiday makers have been unfairly targeted to some extent,” Mr Dicinoski said.
“Even if all the accommodation that was in this town was made available, it still wouldn’t solve the problem.
“We’ve had a little assistance in resolving that issue, there’s been no coordinated effort.”
Mr Dicinoski said most holiday guests who were due to come visit Evans Head over Easter had been understanding and offered to cancel.
“The monetary value of cancellations that we’ve made over the last four weeks would blow people’s minds,” he said.
“It’s only a small percentage of people who, for whatever reason, needed their booking; whether they’re coming to visit family that they haven’t seen for a year because of state lockdowns or who knows what their circumstances are.
“But, even if those properties were available, it is still not going to solve these problems.”
Amid the pleas from locals for holidaymakers to stay away, some families who booked Easter accommodation said they were trying to cancel but had been left confused by mixed messages.
One Sydney woman, who asked not to be named, said she had called the real estate agency where her holiday rental was booked and offered to cancel after seeing comments online about flood-affected local residents being displaced.
“I phoned to postpone or cancel my booking and it was declined as the owners wanted us the keep the booking,” the woman said.
“The real estate agents are only acting on the owner’s wishes as they have mortgages too.
“If someone rang me saying they needed the house for someone displaced, I’d give it up in a heartbeat. But that’s not what’s happening. Not to me anyway. “
The woman said she had family in the area and wanted to help them with their flood recovery.
“The sheer scale and scope of the damage that was occasioned by the first unprecedented flood means that it is going to take a significant period.”
A lack of emergency housing for those who had lost everything was now causing real problems, he said.
“The areas around the Northern Rivers is not blessed with a lot of vacancies.”
Government agencies were working on providing “mid-term accommodation” while longer term solutions were being established, he said.
The Federal Government announced last month a $285 million “Temporary Housing Support package” which includes rental support, pods which allow people to stay on their property while they rebuild, temporary accommodation in motor homes and at recreation camps.
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]
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