Homeless epidemic divides the city

By Khiara Elliott

Homeless camps around the CBD are drawing national attention and people are divided on what to do about them.

One of the larger camps outside of Flinders St Station has sparked a number of complaints from the public as well as residents and retailers around the area.

It’s been reported that the homeless choose this spot due to the amount of passers by heading to the Australian Open.

Rough sleepers of the camp said they are “taken care of” by the general public, receiving donations of food and even camping supplies.

But are those helping the homeless, hindering our city? Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has urged the public not to make such donations as it only results in rubbish littered across our city streets.

“People who donate these doonas and mattresses aren’t thinking it through. They’re actually entrenching people in homelessness,” he said.

Cr Doyle also said that after cleaning up six camps, rubbish including soiled mattresses, tents and syringes were found and left for council to take care of.

Many feel that a harder approach to homelessness is needed and that the obvious answer is for authorities to come in and clear these camps. But within that “answer” only lies more problems.

Firstly, it is currently not illegal to sleep on the street in Victoria - a point Victoria Police Superintendent David Clayton reiterated in a media conference last month.

Although Victoria Police are able to charge for offences like public drug use and erecting larger structures such as tents, sleeping on the street is legally acceptable.

“It’s important to remember that sleeping on the street is not a crime. We have no power to remove people who are not committing offences,” he said.

Is there then a need to reinstate the move-on laws? Superintendent Clayton says no.

“There’s previously been comprehensive move-on powers, but those powers are not particularly helpful when it comes to assisting us with the homelessness problem. They were designed when we were experiencing public disorder issues around licensed venues and nightclubs.”

However Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton is pushing for a tougher approach on moving homeless people and is meeting with council to discuss laws to help do so.

Cr Doyle offered his full support to Chief Commissioner Ashton, stating that he planned to present harsher laws to council at the earliest opportunity.

“There’s a further cohort of people who are not homeless at all, who are kind of just here for sport. They do need a response where the city perhaps needs to offer more powers to our officers,” Cr Doyle said.

“I’ve made the commitment although I can’t guarantee that council will agree, that I will put before council at the earliest possible opportunity either a new bylaw or an amendment to our bylaws to allow our officers, with police support, to clean up these encampments in their entirety. Not just the major structures that we’re allowed to take away now, but all that property.”

This change of heart came a mere two days after it was reported that Cr Doyle said harsher laws would not solve the CBD’s homelessness problem and that he was not convinced police needed any more power in moving homeless people away from high-traffic areas.

How are we as a city meant to progress when our leaders have not defined a plan of action? Or rather, decided on one plan of action.

CBD News believes it is important to not degrade the homeless by assumptions. Not every homeless person is a drug addict. Not every homeless person is aggressive. Although the answer is for now unclear, it is certain that there is no one size fits all solution to this massive problem.

Kay, a country resident visiting the CBD says the sight of these camps put a damper on her trip and she wants the homeless camps moved away from the city.

“I think if they take them out, even into the park, they’re not where people are walking past. If you take them further out, a lot of people aren’t there. I think it’s sad that they can’t be taken away from the city,” she said.

This type of approach poses the problem of being a Band-aid solution. It is not a matter of “out of sight, out of mind”. Removing these camps does not solve the underlying issue.

Perhaps more focus should be on organisations such as Launch Housing which aims to provide sustainable solutions for the homeless.

Launch Housing has recently announced a $5 million campaign that will see empty lots west of the CBD converted into 57 portable homes.

The land is currently owned by VicRoads and will be leased for five years. Construction is expected to be completed by mid-year and tenants to be moved in shortly after.

The project comes after a generous donation of $4 million from philanthropists Brad Harris who co-owns the Sporting Globe Bar and Grill chain and his father Geoff Harris, co-founder of Flight Centre.

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