NEWS

Melbourne City Council's Crackdown On Rough Sleepers 'Won't Remove The People'

Lockers and 'safe spaces' could be introduced, but rough sleepers may go into unsafe territory.

08/02/2017 8:11 AM AEDT | Updated 08/02/2017 2:43 PM AEDT
Fairfax: Joe Armao
The amount of Australians sleeping rough in Melbourne's CBD has become an increasingly pressing issue for the council and state government.

Melbourne City Council is cracking down on rough sleepers as the council opened up a new bylaw for public consultation on Tuesday night that will hit homeless people hardest.

The new bylaw would extend the definition of "camping" and bans people from leaving items in a public place without a permit. Council officers can confiscate items which will be returned if a fee is paid.

Currently, it is illegal for people to sleep in a structure like a tent or car but the proposed bylaw would extend this to people sleeping rough in sleeping bags or on a piece of cardboard.

The decision on Tuesday night was greeted with protests, police presence and dozens of submissions from people opposing the bylaw.

Submissions can be made for the next 28 days before a final decision is implemented. Lord Mayor Robert Doyle agreed to consider introducing "safe spaces", a drop-in centre and lockers to help rough sleepers in the CBD.

Council to Homeless Persons acting CEO Kate Colvin said the proposed bylaw would only decrease the safety for homeless people.

"It's not going to remove people, because there's nowhere for them to go. Instead of camping on a main thoroughfare where there's CCTV footage and people around, rough sleepers may hide in some area where they are out of sight, but more vulnerable to assault," Colvin told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Many rough sleepers sleep in groups in the public eye, so people can see them... it does make them feel safer."

Colvin said the possible implementation of "safe spaces" and lockers are "not a solution to the problem".

"If we want people to have a pathway out of homelessness, we need to address and offer housing they can afford. That is the blockage stopping people getting out, and driving people into homelessness."

The proposed bylaw comes after 75 police were called to Flinders Street Station when attempts to remove a homeless group erupted into protests, resulting in the arrests of five people. Authorities were offering transitional housing for rough sleepers at the time.

In January, the state government announced a $9.8 million plan to tackle housing affordability for rough sleepers.

Daniel Andrews' Labor government intends to build 30 new permanent homes by the end of 2017, providing 40 rough sleepers immediate transitional housing.

Colvin said the development provides a more complex solution for the state's homelessness problem and was a "really positive announcement."

"The problem is there are a lot more than 40 people that are homeless in the streets of Melbourne. We always think about it as a snapshot of homelessness, but there's an ongoing flow of people coming in and out of homelessness," Colvin said.

"There's constantly new people sleeping on the streets. So those 40 will soon be replaced by another 40 people needing affordable housing."

Last year about 247 people were sleeping rough in the streets of Melbourne's CBD. In January, council officers counted 19 people sleeping rough at Flinders Street Station. Colvin estimates there are still about 250 homeless people sleeping rough in the city.

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