Flood victims in New South Wales’ northern rivers say they are still struggling to find accommodation, as some are kicked out of caravan parks to make way for tourists.
Linda Barney, 69, and her husband, Bob, lost everything in the floods. Their house in Coraki is destroyed and they are not sure when they will be able to return to it.
The couple have been staying at the Big4 caravan park in Casino, but on Wednesday were given 24 hours’ notice that they had to leave.
“I went to the reception at three in the afternoon, I had not heard from the disaster accommodation people, but they had told me we had two more blocks of four weeks there,” Barney said.
“The receptionist said we had to leave at 10am. She said ‘we’ve booked you out, we’ve had internet bookings from people who want to stay.’
“With less than 24 hours’ notice me and my husband were going to be homeless … we were under the belief we were there for another eight weeks.”
Her husband, Bob Barney, 75, has emphysema so needs to be close to his doctors in Casino. The Big4 was their third accommodation in two months. They slept on two church pews pulled together at the rescue centre, before moving to Yamba for four weeks.
Guardian Australia contacted Big4 for comment but did not receive a reply.
Panicked, Linda Barney went to the recovery centre, which managed to get them a three-week spot in the Discovery Park, but she said the situation rattled the couple.
“I was shocked,” she said. “[Permanent] accommodation just doesn’t exist.”
On Thursday, the NSW government set up the first temporary accommodation site in the area, at Wollongbar, which will house up to 200 people.
But industry insiders say it will take another three-to-six months to build the next sites, and in the meantime, people are living in limbo.
Chief executive officer of Northern Rivers Community Gateway Jenni Beetson-Mortimer said they had dealt with several clients now who were kicked out of short-term accommodation.
“We have had clients who have been asked to move for other people,” Beetson-Mortimer said.
“There are [also] people who have now been getting eviction notices. They’re being asked to move on but there’s nothing else to go to. That’s a challenge for them.”
She said other people were living with friends, couch-surfing, in garages or in tents.
“There are thousands,” she said. “In north and south Lismore you’re looking at thousands of people who need relocation.”
People can’t get rental properties locally – and they don’t know where to go, or how long they can stay if they can find something.
“We are seeing people who are really traumatised,” Beetson-Mortimer said.
Antoinette O’Brien considers herself lucky. That’s despite the fact the artist lost her home, studio and most of her work in the floods.
She has been living in a caravan on a property just outside Lismore – but doesn’t know how long she will be able to stay there.
“Where I am right now, is so fortunate,” she said. “But I have absolutely no idea how long I can be here.”
Her son’s father, who she co-parents with, also lost everything. They’ve been trying to find him stable accommodation – an impossible task.
“There are flooded houses and there are flooded houses, with good airing. You walk into some, and even though you’re desperate for a space, some places are so wet that it’s just not safe at all,” she said.
“[Before the floods] we lived in the only affordable housing we could find, we can’t pay twice that. How is that an option?”
Strummers has put her name down for one of the 2,000 temporary pod homes announced by the state government, but is worried about the location – she wants to be able to put it where she needs to live.
In announcing the pods, the minister for flood recovery, Steph Cooke, said the NSW government was doing everything possible to find housing solutions for flood-affected communities.
“Housing is one of the greatest challenges we face in the wake of the unprecedented flooding. Our priority is for everyone affected by this disaster to have access to safe housing while they rebuild and recover,” Cooke said.
She said the pods would be a medium-term housing solution for the community.
“Once the Wollongbar site is established and the connection of utilities is complete it will be handed over to housing provider, North Coast Community Housing, with the first accommodation to be allocated by early May.”
North Coast Community Housing CEO John McKenna said there were currently 650 people on the waiting list for pods, but it was expected to grow.
“The government has committed to setting up 2,000 median terms responses,” he said.
But the pods are only part of the solution, he said, with the floods exacerbating the housing crisis in the area.
“The first step was for emergency accommodation for people displaced, then temporary midterm accommodation for two to three years for people while their properties are repaired.
“The third part is long term – what do we do? There was a housing crisis long before the floods.”