Melbourne Homeless Ban ‘By No Means Decided’
It appears the City of Melbourne has backflipped on its proposed ban on rough sleeping in the CBD, following crisis talks with local homelessness agencies
Last Friday it was widely reported that Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was to propose a bylaw at the next council meeting – to be held this week – outlawing people sleeping rough.
“I am happy to put this proposal before councillors at our first meeting if it is Victoria Police’s recommendation, and they guarantee that they will enforce it,” Doyle told News Corp.
“Police already have powers to arrest for obstruction, for drug use, for threatening or aggressive behaviour, and for begging, and I would like to see them make full use of those powers as well.
“I welcome any move by police to bring an end to what has become a blight on our city, and the City of Melbourne continues to work with them to do that.”
On the same day the leaders of Council to Homeless Persons, Justice Connect Homeless Law, Launch Housing, Melbourne City Mission, The Salvation Army Victoria and VincentCare said they were “dismayed” by the reports and called for the government to collaborate with the sector.
On Monday the group held a crisis meeting with the City of Melbourne and Victoria Police.
Launch Housing deputy CEO Heather Holst told Pro Bono News that the outcome was more positive than expected.
“There was quite a bit of discussion about [reports] last week of a change to the law around… sleeping rough, and that’s by no means decided apparently, so that’s good,” Holst said.
“And there’s going to be input from the sector on how any redraft happens, specifically from Justice Connect Homeless Law.
The issue has become increasingly controversial in Melbourne since council officers and police allegedly moved camps of homeless people out of the CBD for the Australian Open. More
Making rough sleeping illegal will not solve homelessness
CHP, Justice Connect, Launch Housing, Melbourne Citymission and that Salvation Army have released a joint statement in response to the reports that sleeping rough may soon become a crime.
The following is a summary of the letter:
We are dismayed at reports that Melbourne may soon be known as the city that arrests people for being poor and homeless. We know that we can do better than knee-jerk, short-sighted responses that hide the homeless out of sight, but fail to address the nub of the problem.
We are very keen to discuss with both police and local council the impact of any law which criminalises homelessness, both on our clients and workers.
Moving on the homeless does not make them disappear, it just pushes them into other municipalities, or into dark places where their complex health, mental health and addiction issues go unmanaged. In worst case scenarios, it pushes them into our already crowded jails where their only crime is being poor and homeless.
Until now, the City of Melbourne has been working incredibly hard to manage the humanitarian crisis on our streets in a compassionate way that considers public safety. This about-turn on policy has come as a shock.
Councils cannot be left to carry the burden of solving a crisis that is underpinned by a national shortage of affordable housing, both in private rental and social housing.
Currently people are told they’ll be waiting for public housing for anywhere from six months to 15 years. In most cases, the only accommodation they can be offered is in rooming houses and crisis beds. Some people decline these offers as they say they feel safer on the streets.
We are calling for an immediate expansion of the pilot program, Street to Home, which has successfully operated in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to move rough sleepers off the streets and into homes and then provide intensive support.
We are also calling for the immediate spot purchase of new public housing to boost depleted stock, and get 33,000 Victorians off the waiting list.
This is not a Melbourne-specific problem, this is a national problem being driven by a chronic shortage of affordable housing. Homelessness has not appeared overnight, and will not be solved overnight.
While quick fixes that remove the very uncomfortable reality of homelessness may be tempting, we need to let go of the idea that they have any hope of working. Law enforcement as a response to homelessness has failed in other cities internationally, and will fail here.
Victoria must do better than punishing its most vulnerable citizens for being poor and homeless. We can invest in long-term housing with supports. Until we do, homelessness and the Victorians experiencing it won’t be moved on and we can’t arrest our way out of this crisis. More