From Thursday next week the public can make submissions on the City of Melbourne Council’s move to virtually ban homeless people from living in the CBD.
The proposed laws, which were endorsed by a narrowly carried vote of councillors this week in a heated public session, will allow authorised officers to more readily move people on and confiscate belongings in public places.
This has been condemned by rough sleepers and advocates as making homelessness a crime, although Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has denied this.
Donna Ribton-Turner, UnitingCare ReGen Director of Clinical Services, recently argued in an article for Croakey that there has been “a growing pattern of official and public vilification” of homeless peoples that has created an impetus to view rough sleeping as a crime.
“The recent surge in stigmatising rhetoric about homeless people in Melbourne is contributing to a hardening of public attitudes towards those most in need of our support,” Donna Ribton-Turner wrote.
“It forms part of a broader pattern of victim-blaming that appears to be driving much of our public policy, from the Commonwealth, down to local government.
“This pattern relies on a refusal to recognise the role that structural and social factors play in driving disadvantage within our communities. Instead of addressing the causes of the problems, our leaders seek to demonise (and increasingly criminalise) those experiencing their effects.”
Mr Ribton-Turner called for a different approach.
“As a society, we need to challenge the stigmatisation of those who are most in need of our support,” she wrote.
“We need to recognise that issues like homelessness (in its many forms), alcohol and other drug dependence, mental health concerns, unemployment and trauma are often interrelated.”
Cr Doyle argues that the toughened laws are necessary to stop the build-up of homeless encampments.
However, he says they will be used with discretion and as a way to get people help.
“If we do send out our compliance officers, we will make sure – as a part of that by-law – that we send out the service providers with them,” Cr Doyle said.
For this week’s Friday Forum we ask: What do you think about the council’s decision?