Tamworth Country Music Festival and other events create ‘no vacancies’ for homeless people

Charities say people in need of temporary or emergency accommodation are deprived of prizes at major festivals, creating an increase in homelessness.

Tamworth in NSW’s northwest has more than 50 hotels within 10 miles of its CBD, but most have been booked months ahead of this week’s country music festival.

While the festival and the tens of thousands of tourists it attracts are a lifesaver for local businesses, homelessness organizations have warned it is their busiest time of year.

Tamworth Family Support Service (TFSS) manager Lynda Townsend said temporary accommodation was not only hard to come by, but unaffordable.

“We see the price of motels going up, almost double for a room, at about two weeks [from the festival]“said Ms. Townsend.

“It’s not necessarily that they are expelled.

“And we realize that happens at every major event in Australia, but Tamworth is not forgotten.”

Thousands of tourists are in Tamworth this week for the music festival.(ABC New England North West: Kemii Maguire)

Homelessness is on the rise

TFSS clients go through episodes of homelessness lasting weeks or months on average, with the majority related to domestic violence.

The number of service customers has increased in recent years due to the housing crisis in the New South Wales region.

The last street count carried out by TFSS in February found 20 homeless people in the Tamworth district.

The number of couch surfing and domestic violence victims, or people known as the hidden homeless, is said to be much higher.

tents only sign in front of the green lawn
Hundreds of people are camping on the sports grounds in Tamworth town centre.(ABC New England North West: Kemii Maguire)

“During the festival, if you are a woman with children, there are emergency accommodations which fill up quickly,” Ms Townsend said.

Due to the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak, the Tamworth Country Music Festival schedule has changed from its usual January timeslot to an Easter Monday start date.

This meant that instead of being a summer festival where temperatures could soar above 30 degrees Celsius, it took place on a week where low temperatures dropped to as low as 5°C.

Tamworth street with people walking by, banners and stalls
Support Services believe the hidden homeless in Tamworth are increasing in number every year.(ABC New England North West: Kemii Maguire)

Not just tourist events

Digby Hughes of Homelessness NSW said the issue of temporary accommodation at major events had been raised for several years but had not seen any change.

“The government is siloed and fractured,” the acting chief executive said.

“The people who take care of the events are not part of the accommodation for the homeless [and] the government department that is not involved in the events.

Mr Hughes said the problem was not specific to Tamworth or tourist events.

“We see this happening along the coast, the Elvis festival in Parkes, road works and cherry picking season – they all require accommodation,” he said.

Tourism Accommodation Australia has been contacted for comment.

budget motel sign
Homelessness NSW says more financial support should be made available to those in need.(ABC New England North West: Kemii Maguire)

Homelessness NSW and TFSS believe a permanent solution would be to fund more social housing.

“People who are stuck at the bottom of the market need to find affordable housing,” Mr Hughes said.

“In the short term, services need more funding to be able to help people [who are] sleep on the street afford motel rooms during price hikes.”

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