NEWS

'Tent Settlement' Begins Packing Up After Parliament Gives Itself Powers To Move Them On

Some face an uncertain future.

11/08/2017 3:05 PM AEST | Updated 11/08/2017 3:07 PM AEST

A standoff between homeless Sydneysiders and authorities has come to an end after residents at a controversial tent settlement on the steps of the Reserve Bank agreed to pack up after State Parliament gave itself powers to have them moved on.

The settlement, which has been in the foot-traffic heavy Martin Place for about six months, began breaking up on Friday, pre-empting a potential move against them just a day after legislation giving police powers to move them on passed parliament.

When the HuffPost Australia visited the site on Friday morning, residents and volunteers were packing up the settlement -- which turned homelessness in Sydney into front page news -- to prepare themselves for an uncertain future.

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A group of men take in the day under a wall opposite the tent settlement on Martin Place. The six month old settlement is breaking up after consultation with police.

"Last night, you could have cut the air up here with a knife," said Donna Bartlet, a volunteer at the site.

"There was fear, people triggered, you've got women running from domestic violence, pressure everywhere. It was a horrific day. Then you saw people noticing their brother or sister and saying 'alright, let's talk,' and getting hugged out of nowhere.

"That's what I keep saying to all these guys. It's not about the place. It's about family... If you've never had it, you never miss it. These people have had now family."

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Robin Gregory, a resident of the tent settlement, said she is worried about elderly Australians sleeping rough

Robin Gregory is in her 70's and has a tumour on her neck. She has been given a room to stay in but told the HuffPost Australia elderly Australians have it particularly rough on the streets. She called on the government to create more elderly shelters.

"I'm barking on behalf of elderly people. I'm fit and healthy -- besides my tumour -- and I can manage," she said, telling the HuffPost Australia she has been sleeping rough for over a decade.

"A lot of elderly people can't manage, sleeping in cars or couch surfing, sleeping down Central or on the trains. People older than me. I can't believe that's right."

Residents -- some of whom will move into state sponsored accomodation -- characterised the controversy about the so-called "tent city" as a "pissing competition" between Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The row escalated over the week over who had the power to move people on. At one point n apparent deal between the residents and the mayor fell through.

Despite the political upheaval, a makeshift free kitchen sprung-up opposite the camp, set against a temporary wall near the RBA along with seats arranged in a neat row near a milk-crate bookcase and standing piano.

It was still in operation on Friday, with volunteers cooking while residents packed up their belongings.

Down some nearby steps, Family and Community Services staff had set up tables so they could meet with tent settlement residents.

There had been an expectation the camp would be moved on Saturday, a day ahead of the city to surf competition in Sydney.

While the tent settlement had been in Martin place on-and-off for six months, it escalated as a political issue when Berejiklian asked Lord Mayor Clover Moore "to do what's in her powers to move them on" and told the press the settlement made her "completely uncomfortable".

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Volunteers Ursula Da Silva (R) and Donna Bartlett (L) wear shirts poking fun at Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying the settlement made her "completely uncomfortable"

From there, Minister for Family & Community Services (and Social Housing) Pru Goward weighed in, calling on Moore to act on "these public safety issues in Martin Place." The political fight has spiralled into a who-has-responsibility-for-moving-them-on argument, not un-similar to recent events in Melbourne.

Lanz Priestly -- the part-time "Night Mayor" of the tent settlement -- told the ABC that on Friday a sergeant from the Local Area Command asked them to leave.

"And incredibly, you might think, that's the first time anyone from any government or council department has ever actually asked us to leave," he said.

NSW Police monitored the peaceful packing up.

Last week Minister for Social Housing Pru Goward said the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) had been in Martin Place 46 times and secured permanent housing for 73 people.

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