A woman whose house was destroyed by floodwaters has slept on close to 40 different beds in less than a year.
In this year alone, Kerry Storton has been forced to live in five different homes after water ripped through her NSW home.
Kerry and other Wardell locals were left devastated when flooding rose three metres above the 2017 water level record at the start of March 2022.
Ms Storton was lucky to evacuate before floodwaters rose to dangerous levels, while others became stranded inside their homes.
“I stayed with friends who sort of adopted me when we thought it was gonna get nasty,” she said.
She never expected that almost a year on from that fateful day she would still be shifting from house to house sleeping on friends’ couches.
Social Futures chief executive Tony Davies said it was hard to get a picture of how many people were living like this.
“It could be hundreds, it might be thousands,” he said.
“We all have friends in a situation like that, some of our staff are, it’s still so widespread.”
Social Futures has helped connect flood survivors with essential services, and the regional community services provider is now reporting a new wave of people who are asking for help.
“That feeling of being in limbo is absolutely the biggest and most consistent picture that we’re seeing in the region, that there’s still a very high level of uncertainty around what will happen with housing,” Mr Davies said.
In December, Ms Storton applied for one of about 500 housing “pods” funded by the NSW government, but by the end of January she still hadn’t received an update.
“I said to her, look things have changed and I need to get in urgently,” she recalled telling a service provider.
“It’s got to a point now where I need to start finding my own place for (my friends’) sanity and mine.”
Ms Storton spends most afternoons on the phone waiting on hold for answers to the endless list of questions about when and where she will be able to find a home.
“By the time you get to the fourth phone call, you’re feeling frustrated,” she said.
In the meantime, the 52-year-old’s home in Wardell appears frozen in time.
“I’m effectively where I was a week after we could get back in and clean out in the middle of March. I haven’t progressed at all,” she said.
More than 6500 people have applied to have their houses repaired, raised or sold back to the government, according to the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation.
The housing crisis has created a vicious cycle of delays. A severe lack of housing has shrunk the amount of tradespeople and case workers living in the region and in turn slowed down the delivery of vital services.
“There are still so many houses that are not liveable which equates to more and more people that need housing,” she said.
“It’s shocking that it’s taken twelve months to not organise anything.”
Mr Davies said the government had allocated significant funds to recovery, but he would have hoped survivors had more certainty a year on.
“The mechanisms as they currently stand are ineffective in an acute crisis and we need to find a way to step aside from business as usual government to enable rapid decisions to be made,” he said.
“Government needs to get cracking, stop talking and start building more social and affordable housing and they have to absolutely prioritise the Northern Rivers.”
Disaster Welfare rang Ms Storton back this week and confirmed she had been approved for up to 14 days of emergency accommodation somewhere near Ballina. She will need to be reassessed at the end of the fortnight.
It also confirmed that she has been approved for a housing pod but there were none available in her region.
“It’s a mixed blessing, as it could mean I am living in a motel room for a year, which is not appealing,” she said.
“At this stage, I’m planning on at least another year out of the house.”