NSW flood victims face new struggle for accommodation amid holiday bookings
Residents of the coastal resort town of Evans Head have launched calls on social media for outsiders to scrap any plans for an Easter holiday to visit the flood-ravaged region.
This follows recent reports of flood victims being forced out of Byron Bay to make way for holiday tourists.
Alysha Drylie, a single mother of three, told 9news.com.au her family was left homeless when flooding destroyed their rental property in Coraki on February 28.
“The first flood came and the water was two meters 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 housing worker from the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) found the family a vacation rental unit in Evans Head.
Housing was financed by funds 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 on vacation.”
DCJ Housing then found a cabin for the family at Reflections Holiday Park in Evans Head.
Two days ago the family were told they had to move chalets to the caravan park because holidaymakers had booked the chalet.
Ms Drylie said she was told her family could stay in their current cabin for three more days until April 7, but then would have to leave.
The single mother said she didn’t know where they would go next.
“There aren’t a lot of rental properties here. It’s just heartbreaking,” she said.
Having to move so many times was difficult for her children after the trauma of losing their home to the floods, Ms Drylie said.
“The kids are a little lost and really confused,” she said.
“They don’t want to move anymore, they’re tired 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 that people stuck without a home can have a place to sleep for the night,” Ms Drylie said.
In a statement, Reflections Holiday Park said it was continuing to support those affected by the flooding, while trying to honor holiday bookings.
“We recognize the devastating impact of recent flooding on people and communities across the North Coast,” the statement read.
“Our Ballina Holiday Park is currently being used as an emergency accommodation center by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) to help people who have been affected by the floods.
“We continue to work with the DCJ to welcome people who have been affected by flooding to our parks, including Evans Head, Shaws Bay and Lennox, while honoring existing vacation reservations, recognizing that many small businesses in the affected areas are highly dependent on tourism.
“We will continue to work with our customers to meet their accommodation needs at our group of parks during this difficult time.”
The town and beach of Evans Head has been shattered by flooding, making it an unpleasant vacation spot at the moment anyway, Ms Drylie said.
“I don’t understand why people would want to vacation 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 fishing? You can’t swim.
Om and Savita Jhorar also lost their home near Woodburn and all their possessions in the flood.
The couple spent a night sleeping at a local high school before being offered a cabin at 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, March 17, they received the news they needed to vacate their cabin for vacationers.
“We had nowhere to go,” Ms Jhorar said.
“The cleaning lady came and I was still packing.”
The couple received a cabin at Camp Koinonia, where temporary housing for those affected by the floods has been established.
“In the end, we were moved to very basic accommodation with no power outlets and a long walk to toilets and showers when it was raining,” Mr Jhorar said.
“I take medication that forces me to go to the bathroom several times at night.
“It was so disappointing and disgusting that visitors traveling for pleasure were given priority over those affected by the disaster.”
Emergency services have estimated that up to 20,000 people are still displaced by the floods on the north coast of NSW.
Estate agent Brad Dicinoski, who is the manager of Evans Head First National, said all of his staff had worked hard to try to help anyone in need of accommodation in the town.
But the lack of local supplies did not allow everyone to be accommodated.
“I think accommodation providers and possibly landlords and vacationers have been unfairly targeted to some degree,” Mr Dicinoski said.
“Even if all the accommodation that was in this town were made available, that still wouldn’t solve the problem.
“We had a little help to solve this problem, there was no coordinated effort.”
Mr Dicinoski said most holidaymakers due to visit Evans Head over Easter had been understanding and offered to cancel.
“The monetary value of the cancellations we’ve made over the past four weeks would blow people away,” he said.
“It’s only a small percentage of people who, for whatever reason, needed their reservation; whether they’re coming to visit a family they haven’t seen in a year because of the closures of the state or who knows what their situation is.
“But, even if these properties were available, it still won’t solve these problems.”
Amid calls from locals for holidaymakers to stay away, some families who booked accommodation for Easter said they were trying to cancel but had been puzzled by mixed messages.
A Sydney woman, who asked not to be named, said she called the estate agency where her vacation rental was booked and offered to cancel after seeing comments online about the move of local residents affected by the floods.
‘I phoned to reschedule or cancel my reservation and it was declined as the owners wanted us to keep the reservation,’ the woman said.
“Real estate agents only act on the wishes of the owner because they also have mortgages.
“If someone called me and said they needed the house for a displaced person, I’d give them up in a heartbeat. But that’s not what’s happening. Not mine in any case.”
The woman said she had family in the area and wanted to help them recover from the floods.
Flood cleanup underway after devastating deluge
“The scale and scale of the damage caused by the unprecedented first flood means it is going to take a significant time.”
The lack of emergency accommodation for those who had lost everything was now causing real problems, he said.
“The areas around the Northern Rivers are not blessed with a lot of vacancies.”
Government agencies were scrambling to provide “medium-term accommodations” while longer-term solutions were being worked out, he said.
The federal government last month announced a $285 million “temporary housing support package” that includes rental assistance, pods that allow people to stay on their property while they rebuild, temporary housing in motorhomes and in recreational camps.
Contact journalist Emily McPherson at [email protected]