Most vulnerable to be targeted in proposed rough sleeping ban

It was a packed room on Friday evening, March 17, at Melbourne’s Multicultural Hub as a public forum was held to discuss the implications of the Melbourne City Council’s proposed ban on rough sleeping in the CBD.

The changes to the bylaws, proposed by Lord Mayer Robert Doyle, follow increased pressure on Victoria Police to take control of the streets in the CBD.

Moderator, Dr Louise Johnson, Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University, opened the forum with a brief overview of the issue, saying that the ban was “more formally triggered by the police who basically say ‘we do not have enough regulations to clean up the streets’, meaning we do not have enough power to move those who are homeless off our streets.”

Although the changes to the bylaws propose banning all forms of camping in the city and enforce penalties, studies suggest that the most vulnerable will be targeted.

Panelist, Dr David Boarder Giles, Lecturer in Anthropology at Deakin University, has been examining the way these types of laws play out in cities around the world.

“These types of laws are never applied uniformly to the whole population.”

“We’ve got plenty of evidence to support the assertion that the people who will be fined the most are the most vulnerable people,” he said.

The ban has also triggered concern from UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha.

”The criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law. It’s bad enough that homeless people are being swept off the streets by city officials. The proposed law goes further and is discriminatory – stopping people from engaging in life sustaining activities, and penalising them because they are poor and have no place to live,” she said in a press release issued from Geneva.

The forum was convened to coincide with the end date of written public submissions to the Victorian Government, with the intention of pushing council members to vote against the changes.

But Spike, also on the panel, who has personally experienced homelessness over a span of 17 years, is outraged that the community has to convince the government to oppose the changes.

“They’re stealing what is ours, It belongs to us and we should be pissed,” he said.

“Why aren’t people freaked out that it’s going to be illegal to sleep on a footpath. Since when has social cleansing been acceptable?” said Spike.

With minimal public discussion on the matter, the forum provided a range of perspectives from speakers in legal advocacy, government, research, and people who have personally experienced homelessness.

For more information on the ban or to attend a #nohomelessban meeting at Trades Hall on Thursdays, head to Facebook and follow the Homeless Persons Union of Victoria.

Written by Roxanne Fitzgerald

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