Homelessness in the City
Report on City of Melbourne Committee Meeting
February 7th, 2017

The Future Melbourne Committee (City of Melbourne Council sitting as a Committee between Council Meetings) met on the evening of February 7th. On the Agenda was an item entitled ‘Homelessness and Public Amenity (http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/about-council/committees-meetings/meeting-archive/MeetingAgendaItemAttachments/766/13734/FEB16%20FMC1%20AGENDA%20ITEM%206.2.pdf)

The proposal incorporated a recommended change to the ‘Activities Local Law (Public Amenity and Security)’ in two major areas. The first is to broaden the definition of camping in public places and the second is to have the power to remove unattended belongings. The proposal also contained various other recommendations of a less contentious nature.

In many ways it is a proposal that shows the city grappling with, on a city-wide basis, the same issues we have to address in the Laneway at Central House. How can we limit the amount of ‘stuff’ piling up over weeks, how do we deal with belongings left behind, and how do we nurture the amenity of the Laneway so it is a safe place of belonging for all. While being respectful of the task before them I disagree with the broadened definition of camping and believe there are options that the Council can look at that will address the issues with a greater respect for the human rights of those most effected.

I took the opportunity to address these matters first in a written submission and then verbally to the Committee last Tues night. These concerns were received well. The written submission can be viewed here

The proposal got up by 1 vote (5 to 4) with the Doyle team voting in unison for it.

This means that the proposed amendments are now out for public consultation for 28 days and so our work becomes serious.

The Motion as passed last night reads:

Agenda item 6.2
Homelessness and Public Amenity

1.          That the Future Melbourne Committee:

 1.1.     pursuant to Part 5 of the Local Government Act 1989, proposes to make the Activities (Public Amenity and Security) Local Law 2017 at Attachment 2 for the purposes of the statutory public notice and submission process

 1.2.     notes that an assessment will be made in respect to the Amending Local Law and its compatibility with the human rights set out in part 2 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006

 1.3.     notes that a communication campaign will be developed to inform and educate the public about the impact of donating to people sleeping rough

 1.4.     notes that the matter of additional resourcing will be referred to 28 February 2017 Council meeting for consideration

 1.5.     appoints Mr Bernie Geary to support Council in relation to homelessness initiatives as outlined in the report

 1.6.     requests management to draft a policy with the purpose of guiding the work of Local Law enforcement officers when implementing the Local Law in relation to people who are or appear to be homeless, which codifies requirements around enforcement officers being accompanied by homelessness support providers on such occasions, and that this policy be considered alongside the Council report considering submissions on the Activities (Public Amenity and Security) Local Law 2017.

The four Councilors who voted against it were:

Rohan Leppert (rohan.leppert@melbourne.vic.gov.au),

Cathy Oke (cathy.oke@melbourne.vic.gov.au),

Jackie Watts (jackie.watts@melbourne.vic.gov.au) and

Michael Caiafa (michael.caiafa@melbourne.vic.gov.au).

Please take the time to send them a short email of thanks for standing with the City’s most vulnerable and identify your self by your connection to Urban Seed. This will strengthen the hand of these people.

Councillor Philip Le Liu (philip.leliu@melbourne.vic.gov.au) was not present last night. He should be emailed, urging him to vote against the proposed amendments and to take notice of the recommendations contained in my Submission. Again, identifying yourself with Urban Seed will be helpful as we strive to have a prominent voice in all of this. Please make sure that your submission is respectful and measured.

The Councilors voting for the proposed amendment were:

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle (lordmayor@melbourne.vic.gov.au)

Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood (arron.wood@melbourne.vic.gov.au)

Kevin Louey (kevin.louey@melbourne.vic.gov.au)

Nicholas Reese (nicholas.reese@melbourne.vic.gov.au) and

Tessa Sullivan (tessa.sullivan@melbourne.vic.gov.au)

These are the five Councilors who need to be persuaded to change their vote. As they are all on the Doyle team the main person we need to persuade is Robert Doyle. He will listen to Brendan Nottle (who was interstate last night but I have lunch booked with him next week) and so Brendan’s hand needs to be strengthened. Slandering him, as is common in some of the sector, will be counter-productive. When we hear such slander we need to stand against it.

Even though Robert Doyle should be our main target, we need to try and influence the others as much as we can. I know from experience that a team of Councilors can be persuaded to change their vote from strong voices within the team. Here are some pointers:

·       Nicholas Reece openly talked last night of how his brother had been sleeping rough due to drug addiction and he lost his life as a result. This Councillor knows first hand the tragedy of homelessness.

·       Tessa Sullivan spoke of how she really did care about the homeless and how she had been talking with many in the sector about how Council should approach the issues. Councillor Sullivan is a member of the Homelessness Action Group.

·       The proposed amendment will go to the City’s Homelessness Action Group for comment. Andre Van Eymeren is a part of this select committee and he will be a strong voice for the changes we are seeking.

·       Send emails to each of them, showing respect for their role and for the complexity of the issues they are dealing with, while urging them to not allow camping to be redefined to the point where it could be interpreted as rough sleeping.

Submissions on this issue can be sent through the City’s website for getting involved (http://participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au). The current issue is not there as yet but I have been assured it will be there within the next couple of days.

A couple of other points you may be interested in:

·      Councillor Rohan Leppert moved an amendment that would mean the definition of camping could not include rough sleeping (something that I had stressed in both my written and verbal presentations) but it lost 4 to 5. This in turn led Leppert to vote down the substantive motion. Good leadership from the Councillor there.

·      In his summary, Robert Doyle mentioned that the ideas of lockers and Drop in Centres were avenues that the City hasn’t pursued and that they would do so. Both of these ideas were in my presentations. Nice to know that he is listening even though he voted for the substantive motion.

This is a really important issue in the life of Melbourne and its reputation of looking after the homeless and an even more important issue in the humanization of and respect for people living in disadvantage.
Let’s give it all we’ve got.

Dr. David Wilson
Urban Seed

Click here to read my submission to the council.