A City for All Needs Housing
Thursday, 4th May 2017 at 3:33 pm
The key thing a city needs to be healthy is safe affordable housing, according to a workshop designed to capture the perspectives, experiences and views of people experiencing homelessness.
The workshop, which was convened ahead of the Implementing the Urban Agenda Conference in Melbourne, tackled questions such as what it means to be part of the city and what an inclusive and accessible city looks like.
The feedback gathered from the workshop is set to feed discussion into the main conference on Thursday.
Council to Homeless Persons manager consumer programs Ian Gough, who convened the workshop, told Pro Bono News the main themes to emerge from the session were the need for safe affordable housing and safety and inclusion.
“I think the main takeaway was the notion that the key thing a city needs to be healthy is safe affordable housing and that housing is accessible,” Gough said.
“There was a really strong theme about safety and that people who are experiencing homelessness often don’t have the sanctuary that a home provides.
“[They] are in the city and they experience the city in a different way to people who do have a home because there is nowhere to escape to.
“The related issue to safety is having a right to the city and being safe and things being accessible to you… and there was certainly a theme that there are many spaces that people are discouraged from being in.”
The discussion also touched on the proposed changes to the Melbourne City Council Bylaws.
Gough said there was a sense in the group that homeless people did not have the same rights as other people.
“There was a very strong theme about the drift towards criminalising homelessness and the sort of stigma attached to it and the way that things like the bylaws, but not just the bylaws, things like physically putting barriers on seats so you can’t lie down for instance, act in a way of sending a very strong message that people aren’t welcome in the space and that they don’t have the right to be in that space. They don’t have the same rights as other people, certainly people who aren’t homeless, have,” he said.
Kirstin Jenkins, a member of the Youth Action Group (YAG) at Frontyard Youth Service who participated in the workshop, said it was great to hear other perspectives.
“Someone mentioned how there is a lot of arrogance… about homeless people and some people are just: ‘Oh move them on, I don’t want to have to deal with it’. But if everyone doesn’t want to have to deal with it, then no one is going to help,” Jenkins told Pro Bono News.
“A big thing is also unemployment. You can have a house but you can’t afford to live there if you don’t have a job. And lack of skills because no one is willing to employ people that don’t have certain skills and no one gives them a shot. So a really big thing is finding employment and keeping a place.”
Jenkins, who was personally at risk of homelessness after receiving an eviction notice, said it was a frightening experience.
“For me, it was lots of fear, not knowing what was going to happen and a lot of anger about the whole thing and then I realised there were lots of supports,” she said.
“I don’t think anyone really realises [how easy it is to become homeless] until they have been through it. I certainly didn’t. I was like: ‘Oh yeah, I’ll be fine, no job, no money.’ But I thought I could do it.”
YAG member Edward Quoibia, who was homeless for one month, said there needed to be more support for homeless people.
“Today was very beautiful, it just helped us to really analyse the situation within the homeless community and especially within young people’s lives,” Quoibia said.
“What we came up with at the end of the day was that every homeless person needs attention, needs help and they need a lot of support.”
He said he wanted to “put a big shout out there for other homeless people”.
“Hopefully when we are in this meeting and we talk about what is going on, this will make people see where young people are coming from and how homelessness, especially for young people, can be resolved.
“I am really hoping it will be resolved. If it is not looked at or resolved, things will get worse.”
Gough said he would be taking that message to the conference.
“The three key overarching themes of the conference are a city for all, a right to a city and an inclusive city and I guess the focus from us in the report back will be around those issues that for many people who are experiencing homelessness, they don’t feel included and they don’t feel like they have the same rights to the city. That was a very strong theme actually, that they don’t have the same rights as others, not just access to space but access to amenity and educational opportunities,” he said.
“I think the other theme that will definitely reinforce the overarching theme [of the conference] is that for a city to be healthy people have to feel safe within it and people experiencing homeless don’t feel safe. So we have got a large group of people who are experiencing something that is a transitional thing, not an identity… in our community, that one don’t feel like they have the same rights as others and two don’t feel safe within it and that means therefore it is not a city for all.
“One of the big themes for the conference is a city should be a city for all. That is what the new Urban Agenda sort of tenet is, but the very strong message from this group is they don’t feel that the city is for them at all in some respects.”
The conference marks the first opportunity for those who work in planning, infrastructure, economic development, social inclusion, equalities and sustainable urban environments in Australasia and Southeast Asia to explore the implications of the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda (NUA) and begin the development of a roadmap for its implementation.
The NUA will shape and direct urban policy for the next 20 years in the 167 signatory nations, which includes Australia.
Conference chair Dr David Adamson said housing would be a key focus at the conference.
“In particular, we will be looking at how we can reduce housing stress; make sure all Australians, including our most vulnerable community members, can access safe, affordable housing; and sustainable urban renewal and development that will support our population growth, particularly in our growing cities,” Adamson said.
Gough said housing was a human right.
“It is a human right to have safe, affordable, or the UN say ‘adequate’ housing, and for that it is relevant for every city in the world from the poorest through to the richest,” he said.
“I guess that was a theme here: that we have such a wealthy city and wealth country that is seems to be counterintuitive that we would have an issue like homelessness being such a serious social issue.”
He said he hoped that Australia signing up to the NUA marked a commitment to being outcomes focused.
“Putting pen to paper and signing up to both the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda makes a public statement,” he said.
“If you make a public declaration to the country that you are going to do something about these issues then I hope that is reflected in an outcome.”
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