homelessness

After more than six months camped outside the Reserve Bank building in Martin Place, and following months of negotiations between the state government and the City of Sydney Council, the homeless occupants of Sydney’s tent city began packing up their belongings on August 11.

The man often called the “Mayor of Martin Place”, Lanz Priestley, said some camp dwellers were moving to “friend’s places” or “friend’s backyards”, but some “don’t have anywhere to go”.

Last week was Homelessness Week. It was also the week when the 76 homeless people sleeping in Martin Place were removed by the NSW Coalition government.

Sydney City Council has, at least, defended the “tent city” and taken a more pro-active role in trying to find solutions, compared with the NSW government which simply wants to wash its hands of this enormous problem.

Homelessness is a growing problem in Australia.

Laws prohibiting the homeless from sleeping, eating, soliciting, or, let’s face it, being seen in public, are older than most modern institutions.

There have been destructive attacks on the homeless in the past year in Melbourne, but the vitriolic hate campaign and physical attacks on the street, and on squatters, has reached a deadly level: murder. 

Just before midnight on March 1, a cowardly arson attack set off a blazing fire at Kinnear’s rope factory in Footscray, which took 40 minutes for the fire brigade to control. Three squatters were tragically killed: Tanya Burmeister and her 15- year-old daughter Zoe were among the dead.

A protest was held on February 18 in response to the City of Melbourne’s proposed by-law amendments that ban any form of public camping and make it easier for the confiscation of unattended property — essentially criminalising rough sleepers in the streets of Melbourne.

1. People choose to be homeless

By “banning” homelessness, Melbourne City Council is implying it is a “choice”. Homelessness is usually the cause of a range of interconnected factors, some of which include poverty, unemployment and family violence. There is also a shortage of affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage.

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".

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.

There are 105,000 homeless people in Australia. In NSW and Victoria there has been a 20% increase in the rate of homelessness in the past decade. This shows that homelessness is a structural issue, one that charity is not capable of fixing.

The current homelessness services are incredibly scarce and designed to fail anyone in need of accommodation.

Increased evidence of homelessness in Melbourne’s iconic graffiti laneway, Hosier Lane, has prompted outrage from government and local businesses in recent weeks.

Activists from the Homeless Persons Union (HPU) began occupying vacant properties in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood on March 30 in a protest at the lack of public housing.
On June 14, NSW Minister for Social Housing Brad Hazzard unveiled plans for a $170 million development on the inner-Sydney Cowper Street, Glebe, block, which has lain vacant since the previous state Labor government demolished a low-rise public housing estate on the site in 2011. According to the government's plan, the new 500-apartment development would include about 250 private apartments, 150 public or social housing units and about 100 "affordable housing" apartments, reserved for "essential workers", such as nurses or teachers.
On March 11 around 90, mainly young people gathered outside parliament house to raise awareness about housing affordability in Sydney. Many carried furniture, signs and banners about youth homelessness directed at NSW Premier Mike Baird. Signs asked if protesters could move into parliament house with Mike Baird, as there are no affordable housing options in Sydney.
Rough sleepers in Sydney are under attack from the NSW government. Many have had their possessions removed from their usual sleeping places at the same time as funding for refuges is being cut.
Two young people who died in their car on July 25 after using a gas heater to keep warm had been homeless for some time. Dr Bruce Redman from the Salvation Army told the Ballarat Courier after the discovery of their bodies: “The Salvos are finding more and more people who are resorting to live in their cars because of a lack of affordable accommodation options. “When it's summer, people tend to sleep on the beach or in their cars and no one really notices. But when it's cold, most people expect to have a roof over their heads, somewhere where they can stay warm.”

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