Dr. David Wilson
Urban Seed

Written Submission to the Committee

Future Melbourne Committee
February 7th, 2017

Homelessness and Public Amenity Submission

Street homelessness is obviously a problem in the City of Melbourne at the moment. Some tourists don’t like seeing it, businesses are sick to death of it, and the Council is struggling to know how best to treat it. Most of the rough sleepers are not keen on it either. In many ways rough sleeping has become rough camping and it’s a growing problem.

When I was a Councillor with the City of Melbourne the Commonwealth Games were upon us. There was talk of moving the Homeless on to the outer suburbs and hiding them in cheap motels for the duration of the Games. The City of Melbourne stood up against this and developed their ‘Homelessness Protocol’. The Council officer who put it together was Nanette Mitchell, a champion of human rights and the marginalised. In explaining the Protocol’s approach she said:

‘The principles of the protocol are based on a human rights approach which is consistent with the City of Melbourne Homelessness Strategy 2006–2009 and the current Homelessness Strategy 2011–2013. Key principles of the protocol are that all people have the right to be in public places, participate in public events and activities while at the same time, respecting the right of local communities to live in a safe and peaceful environment. People experiencing homelessness were actively involved in discussion and development of the protocol” (Parity, Vol.25, Issue 2, May 2012).

The City of Melbourne was praised for taking a human rights approach and it became an example to other municipalities and organisations on respectfully addressing the issues surrounding marginalisation. I urge the current Council to live up to this fine reputation in addressing the complexities of rough sleeping today.

The proposed draft of the Activities (Public Amenity and Security) Local Law 2017 seeks to address two major issues. The first is what has become rough camping compared to rough sleeping and the second (which is largely a result of the first) is the amount of property left unattended in the public space. The definition of camping as compared with sleeping is paramount in consideration of these amendments and their impact on the most vulnerable human beings in our City.

This definition is addressed within the proposed changes by simply deleting in paragraph 2.8 the words ‘in a car, tent, caravan or any type of temporary or provisional form of accommodation’. The lack of clarity around ‘any type of temporary or provisional form of accommodation’ is where my concern lies. If this extends to a roll out mattress and/or swag and/or blankets then it effectively outlaws rough sleeping and is therefore antithetical to the City’s homelessness protocol. I urge the Council to address this lack of clarity to make sure that rough sleeping is not outlawed in the City.

I also refer Council to the draft United Nations resolution on ‘The New Urban Agenda’, coming out of their Habitat 3 Conference in Quito Ecuador, 2016. Paragraph 11 of this document talks of the right to the city for all people and in later paragraphs applies that to the City’s most vulnerable. This is one of the underlying features of Melbourne’s Homelessness Protocol and we have the opportunity to continue to be a leader in human rights with the disadvantaged in mind. I urge Council to not take a step backwards in this area.

I applaud the City’s efforts in other areas that seek to create sustainable pathways out of homelessness. The commitment to resource supported housing, to seek safe spaces for sleeping, and to create expert panels to address the deeper problems are just examples of this commitment. Thank you. However, the ongoing, increasing problem of rough sleeping needs to be addressed in humane ways while more sustainable pathways are being implemented.

There are ways to work with this problem that address the rights and responsibilities of all groups of people effected by the problem. Here’s a few ideas that need to be discussed in a forum of all effected parties before any far reaching, ineffectual ‘solutions’ are passed down.

·       The Council needs to differentiate between rough sleeping and rough camping. Its one thing to ban camping on the streets of the City but quite another to ban rough sleeping.

·       There’s a movement in various places around the world, Sydney and Hobart included, that provides lockers for the use of the homeless during the day. Rough sleepers have their belongings packed up by a set time in the morning and they put those belongings into storage lockers in the area, provided by the Council. They access those lockers in the evening to set up their rough sleeping for the night. If their belongings are not removed by the set time in the morning Council workers clean them up.

·       One of the problems associated with this action is the displacement of rough sleepers during the day. A solution would include the setting up of various Drop-in Centers across the CBD to be places of welcome, activities, skills training, and service provision that would help create sustainable pathways out of homelessness, while treating the homeless with dignity. A lot more needs to be done in envisaging and then implementing this program but for now it needs to be seen in association with the idea of lockers, for the lockers by them selves would create a huge displacement.

At Urban Seed we are ready to work with Council, Victoria Police, and Service Providers to address the problems of street homelessness. We bring over 21 years of experience in Community Development and Place Management, personnel trained and experienced in these areas, City property that can be utilized, and a generally good reputation with those experiencing homelessness.

We are ready when you are.


Click here to return to the Report on Homelessness in Melbourne.