Homeless people speak out

Police remove homeless people from Flinders Street Station on February 1.
February 4, 2017

Melbourne City Council sent 75 riot police to evict 10 rough sleepers who had been camping outside Flinders Street Station on February 1.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle had previously threatened to remove rough sleepers from the streets of the CBD and council officers had taken away the property of homeless people.

A large crowd gathered to protest the police actions and five protesters were arrested. Claims that the evicted homeless people had refused alternative accommodation offered by the state government are false. The government had only offered them three nights in a motel.

On January 28, more than 200 people gathered outside Melbourne Town Hall to protest against the Melbourne City Council's treatment of homeless people.

Most of the speakers were homeless people, or people with past experience of homelessness.

Kelly from the Homeless Persons Union said homeless people need public housing. She said rooming houses are unsafe, and many people prefer to sleep on the streets.

Vicki expanded on the problems with rooming houses. They are run for profit and poorly maintained. Rooms are extremely small and sometimes cannot be locked, leaving residents vulnerable to crime, including violence.

Spike said people are homeless because the capitalist system has failed. The problem is not individual, but systemic. Centrelink benefits are below the poverty line. Housing is unaffordable. Meanwhile, there are 80,000 empty properties in Victoria.

Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton said homelessness is increasing because many workplaces are closing down and thousands of people are losing their jobs. Meanwhile Centrelink staff are being cut and people are being "bullied off the dole".

Bolton also criticised the role of some charities that are being used as a "fig leaf" for government policies against homeless people.

Duncan Storrar said rough sleepers are the "visible face of poverty". If they are forced off the streets, the problem is hidden. He said thousands of people have been taken off the disability support pension. Often they have to choose between paying rent or buying food.

Howard Marosi from Friends of Public Housing spoke against the privatisation of public housing by governments around Australia, including the Victorian Labor government. He said public housing is better than private rental because there is security of tenure and it is more affordable. Because public housing rent is set at 25% of income, it goes down when people's income is reduced.

Larry, an Aboriginal man, denounced the unequal system we live under, contrasting it with traditional Aboriginal society where everyone was equal. He said that everyone should have their own home.

Larry also linked economic inequality to other issues such as Aboriginal deaths in custody, citing the death of Ms Dhu after being arrested for unpaid parking fines.

Other speakers talked about the role of domestic violence, sexual abuse, homophobia and transphobia in causing people to run away and become homeless. Speakers also denounced the refusal of those in authority, and the heads of charities, to listen to the "collective voice" of homeless people.

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