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Council Backs CBD Camping Ban

8 February 2017 at 10:01 am
Lina Caneva
Melbourne City Council has endorsed a controversial ban on public camping in the city centre in an emotion-charged meeting on Tuesday night, despite strong advice against the move from homelessness agencies.

Lina Caneva | 8 February 2017 at 10:01 am


Council Backs CBD Camping Ban
8 February 2017 at 10:01 am

Melbourne City Council has endorsed a controversial ban on public camping in the city centre in an emotion-charged meeting on Tuesday night, despite strong advice against the move from homelessness agencies.

Councillors voted five to four to seek to broaden the definition of camping in a bid to ban homeless people from sleeping rough in the CBD.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was sworn at and heckled during the council meeting which resulted in the close vote.

Council also agreed there would be a 28-day consultation period on the changes before a final decision is made.

On ABC radio on Wednesday Doyle agreed the issue of homelessness in the CBD was a “divisive one”.

He said: “I am not trying to criminalise or demonise or artificially cleanse the city.”

The controversial council move follows violent clashes last week when police dismantled a large homeless camp outside Flinders Street Station.

A statement issued by the council on Wednesday said: “The changes to the local law are focused on protecting public amenity, disability access, and increasing council’s powers to remove items that are left unattended in public places.

“The penalty for camping in public places has not changed. However, we have proposed a penalty for leaving items unattended in a public place. No move-on provisions are proposed.

“In the past two years there has been a 74 per cent increase in the number of people sleeping rough in the municipality. We don’t want to accept a situation where large groups of people see sleeping on mattresses on a city street as the best long-term choice they have available.”

Earlier on Tuesday homelessness agencies called on Melbourne City councillors to reject proposed “anti-camping” laws that the not-for-profit organisations said had failed elsewhere.

In a joint statement, Council to Homeless Persons, Launch Housing, Melbourne City Mission, The Salvation Army, VincentCare and Justice Connect Homeless Law said they rejected council plans to make rough sleeping illegal by outlawing camping in the CBD.

“We are concerned the proposed amendments to by-laws… by the City of Melbourne on Tuesday will compound the vulnerability of already vulnerable citizens, while not reducing the numbers of people sleeping rough,” the statement said.

The proposed amendment to clause 2.8 of the City of Melbourne Activities Local Law 2009 said: “Unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not camp in or on any public place.”

However, the statement from the homeless organisations said: “This reform will enable police and council officers to require people sleeping in the street to move on, forcing people who are already extremely vulnerable into more hidden, and consequently more unsafe corners of our city.

“This will expose them to greater risk of assault, and will make it more difficult for homeless services to locate and engage people to support them into housing.”

The organisations said that other cities, such as Los Angeles, had previously enacted similar laws empowering police to move people on for sitting or sleeping on the street.

“Despite these laws, and considerable cost expended enforcing the provisions, at least 5,000 people still sleep in the 50-block central city area. The laws in Los Angeles had so little effect because the drivers of homelessness remain unaddressed. Like Melbourne, Los Angeles lacks housing that people on low incomes can afford,” the statement said.

“The City of Melbourne has had a very positive record working constructively with services and police to manage the humanitarian crisis on our streets in a way that considers public safety. The Victorian government has also made a series of funding commitments to address homelessness over the past year.”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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