On January 15, around 25 homeless students and supporters marched on the administration building of the University of Melbourne. They carried mattresses and bedding, having been evicted from their houses two days earlier in a pre-dawn raid.
Those evicted have continued to sleep outside their former homes. Security have been employed to stop them returning.
The students are part of the Student Housing Action Collective, which had occupied four properties owned by the university for five months. The four houses had been left unused by the university for three-and-a-half years, and were claimed by SHAC in order to raise the issue of student homelessness in Melbourne.
The occupation was initiated after a report conducted by the university in 2008 revealed that 440 of its students were homeless.
Since the occupation, the university administration has repeatedly attempted to remove the students. In recent weeks the university launched a court action to have them evicted.
The SHAC house had served as both a refuge for homeless students, as well as an organising centre for activists.
While the housing crisis affects many people, students — who have very limited resources — are hit particularly hard. This is likely to get worse as the economic crisis deepens, with many people unable to keep up with rents and mortgages.
Vacancy rates in inner Melbourne currently sit below 1% — a record low. At the same time, the available student housing on the private rental market is increasingly expensive.
Median rents in Melbourne have gone up 17% in the last six years. The huge cost of student accommodation, and the government's whittling-down of student allowances, has forced many students to look for work, taking time away from study and putting extra pressure on students.
This skyrocketing rental market contrasts with the approach in revolutionary Cuba, where despite the criminal US blockade, residents by law are charged no more than 10% of their incomes in rent.
At the January 15 demonstration, Liz Turner, one of the organisers of the SHAC occupation, pointed out that there were still 220 homeless students at the University of Melbourne "and these are just the ones we know about. When university goes back, the problem will continue. The university is offering no new housing or funding to solve the problem. We want to send a strong message that the campaign continues."
Another SHAC activist shared a "bedtime story" with the students assembled outside the university administration. "The university has been asleep for five months. We need to wake them up!"
"While the rich benefit from extra income from rents and negative gearing, it is the poor who suffer when they can't make repayments on their homes," he said.
Quoting the university's million dollar advertising campaign, speakers argued that the university needs to "DreamLarge" and listen to students demands.
SHAC urges supporters in Melbourne to visit the ongoing sleep-out on the street outside 272-8 Faraday St, Carlton.
[Chris Peterson is a member of the socialist youth organisation Resistance.]