Activists mobilise to defend Big Bird homeless shelter

April 26, 2023
Mina Lib with Yoda Blues at housing rally
Mina Lib (right) with Big Bird resident Yoda Blues at housing rally, April 22. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Big Bird Backpackers, a specialty emergency accommodation service in Spring Hill, currently houses around 70 people. Activists are calling on the Queensland government to fund the service, which otherwise has to close on April 28.

University of Queensland student counsellor Mina Lib volunteers to provide mental health support at Big Bird. She told Green Left that many who live at Big Bird have previously been sleeping rough.

“A lot of the residents suffer from severe mental illnesses, addiction or trauma. There are some with cancer on chemotherapy treatments. The residents have built a community here,” Lib said. “They have access to onsite services such as free doctors and medical assistance, counseling, Drug Arm, and food banks.

“They have security, regular assistance and they know where to go.”

The property owner has raised the rent to $30,000 a month. This does not include utility and staff costs.

Lib describes this as a “soft closure” —  technically not an eviction, but pushing residents out by setting the rent at an unaffordable rate. Residents who can afford to do so pay $175 a week — not enough to cover the higher costs.

Housing minister Leeanne Enoch released a statement saying that the government “will continue to monitor the situation and stand ready to provide assistance”.

Lib says it is time for the government to act. “Obviously, we need assistance. Stop standing by.” She wants people to contact the minister to demand action.

Big Bird manager Mark Farries said he needs to find $400,000 a year by April 28.

“Four hundred thousand per year might seem like a lot to an ordinary working class person," Lib said. “But to the government, that is nothing! It is not even a fraction of what it would cost [in increased homelessness costs if residents are evicted from] Big Bird.”

Lib says that this is the worst housing crisis Australia has ever seen. “I was in Musgrave Park two days ago and I counted at least 30 tents; there were 74 tents under the bridge in the city.

“It's heart breaking; it's making me feel physically ill. People should write or call the housing minister [asking for the government to] do something about Big Bird and other emergency accommodation.”

She also called on renters to join the South East Queensland Union of Renters to help push for grassroots action for renters rights.

“Australia can afford to spend billions on nuclear submarines but can't afford to house it's own citizens. There are a lot of people who need help,” she said.

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