WAGGA'S homeless population fear they will soon have nowhere to go as council cracks down on limiting their stay at Wilks Park.
With no money to pay for accommodation and many needing to be in close proximity to medical facilities, residents of the park and bordering Crown Land have labelled the 72-hour stay restriction as "heartless".
The Daily Advertiser spoke to three people without a fixed roof over their heads, each told they have until February 1 to vacate the park after a grace period through the pandemic.
Chris Matthews has fought the same battle for years, later moving to the bordering Crown Land where he says he has "every right" to stay.
"The hypocrisy is mind boggling," he said.
"[Council] want us to abide by the 72 hour rule at Wilks Park, yet they don't abide by the rules of the Planning Department."
According to Wagga City Council, the park is classified as a 'primitive camping ground', which Mr Matthews said by law "should be fully fenced from the Crown Land behind it, and it is only supposed to have two caravans per hectare".
"I've seen up to seven in that space on many occasions," he said.
"But the rangers also tell lies to people living on the Crown Land, saying they can fine them $700 for camping there, which I personally ignored and have never been fined.
"They should pick on someone who can afford the lawyers to fight that, picking on the homeless and vulnerable just shows their cowardice."
When asked of the rules around living off Crown Land, Wagga City Council did not provide a response.
But Mr Matthews said it was an issue beyond just the law.
"The council should be proud to provide a place for the homeless that is safe, instead we feel like refugees in our own country," he said.
"I thought Wagga Council had a heart, but obviously I was wrong.
"They would never know how hard it can be without living it."
When asked where the city's homeless population should go instead, council's Director of Community Janice Summerhayes said in a statement that they "have been working closely with the NSW Government's Department Community and Justice, which is the lead agency regarding homelessness, and other agencies to support those community members who need other accommodation support options".
"DCJ, other support agencies and Council officers have recently attended Wilks Park and actively engaged with visitors to the area and also those who identify as being in a homeless situation," she stated.
"These people are being fully supported in finding other accommodation. Council will continue to closely liaise with DCJ to ensure alternative accommodation options are provided through the relevant agencies."
Mr Matthews said social housing options were not an acceptable alternative, though.
"Many of us have tried social housing and won't go there again because we've had such bad experiences," he said.
"You just get grouped into these blocks with the druggies and alcoholics and you're too scared to even leave your house because you'd come back to smashed windows and all your things stolen."
In Ms Summerhayes statement, she said the move to reinforce the time restriction followed "complaints regarding the permissible period of stay and use of Wilks Park".
"Council, as the regulator, is obligated to respond to complaints and work to current normal operating conditions," she stated.
But Mr Matthews said their presence should be nothing to complain about.
"There is hardly ever any trouble here, and when there is, it's people coming from around Wagga, not us doing the crimes," he said.
"You see these flash $100,000 caravans pulling in who could well afford a caravan park to stay at yet they come here for free, and they're usually the ones who are tight, take the toilet paper from the amenities and spend nothing in town, whereas all the money we get gets spent directly in Wagga."
Fellow Wilks Park resident Robert, who wished to keep his last name anonymous, also supported the argument that they contribute to the city's economy.
"I get paid about $900 a fortnight and I spend most of that in the Wagga community, be it on fuel, food, medical costs and such," he said.
"And that's from all of us here, so we're all spending in town and contributing in that way.
"I wish people realised there was a difference between a drug addict and a homeless person, we aren't all in the same basket."
Moving on to another free camping ground out of town was also not an option for many of those at Wilks Park due to medical reasons.
Frank Cox lives out of a bus at Wilks Park, and for him, the need to be close to the hospital was a matter of life and death.
"I spent about seven months in hospital recently. I had cancer to start with, then had a heart attack from going through chemo and radiation treatment," he said.
"Then I lost my leg, it had to be amputated on January 10 last year.
"They said last Christmas was likely my last, and I wasn't even meant to live until then but I'm still kicking along. I just can't afford to leave here, I need to be near the hospital."
In other news:
Mr Cox said he's "doing the best he can to stay out of hospital", but unfortunately, it's inevitable he will need further treatment at short notice.
"I got two Golden Staph infections from operations at the hospital, I've had low and high blood pressure problems, I've had a major heart attack and a mild one; How can they make me move?" he said.
"I have my son who lives here in Wagga to help look after me, but he can only do so much and I can't move away from that help either."
Affording accommodation was out of the question for Mr Cox too.
"I have to spend $200-$300 a month on antibiotics, it's $136 for just one of them a month and I'm on 10 a day," he said.
"I pay for those here in Wagga and do my grocery shopping here too, so it's all money going into the town."
Council confirmed they will revert to applying the 72-hour time limit for the park as of February 1.
Until then, people like Mr Matthews, Robert and Mr Cox are hoping something will change.
"We don't know what to do anymore, or where to go," Mr Matthews said.