Protests as Melbourne City Council debates making homelessness illegal

A banner held outside the council meeting to discuss proposed changes to council laws that would effectively make homelessness illegal.

Protesters gathered outside Melbourne’s Town Hall on February 7 ahead of a volatile council meeting to discuss proposed changes to council laws that would effectively make homelessness illegal in the community.

Camping is currently banned in Melbourne if a person uses a tent, car, caravan or other structure. Councillors voted 5–4 to broaden the definition of camping, a move legal experts say could lead to rough sleepers being forced to the outskirts of Melbourne or fined for sleeping with nothing more than "a cardboard box and blanket".

About 250 people attended the meeting as council debated a new public amenity law that will make it illegal to leave items unattended in a public place. The law also gives police more powers to move on rough sleepers and introduces fines for those who leave items unattended. The law also endorses a campaign to discourage people from directly donating items to homeless people.

At one stage Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood threatened to close the meeting if the heckling did not stop, but people continued to shout "how insulting" and "this is bullshit".

The council’s move came despite homelessness groups and the Law Institute of Victoria condemning the new law. Kate Colvin from the Council to Homeless Persons said the new definition of camping was so broad it would "prevent people from simply being allowed to lie down on cardboard".

Greens councillor Rohan Leppert tried to remove the camping ban from the law, but it was blocked by the lord mayor’s team, which holds a majority in the council.

Cr Leppert said it was already an offence through the city's local laws "for a person in a public place to adversely affect the amenity of that public place, or to obstruct any other person in or on that public place".

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