Uniting Wesley has welcomed Melbourne City Council’s dumping of a bylaw that would have banned homeless people from camping in the CBD.
Melbourne’s lord mayor Robert Doyle announced that Council would not be putting in place the proposed ban following legal advice that it would be at odds with Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Janene Evans, acting group manager services at Uniting Wesley said the proposed laws failed to address the underlying cause of homelessness.
“It’s a relief these proposals have been abandoned, as they would have only served to hide the problem rather than address the fundamental issues which contribute to rough sleeping, most significantly the availability of affordable housing,” she said.
In January this year, homelessness hit the headlines when a makeshift camp around Flinders Street Station was dismantled by police.
Melbourne’s lord mayor Robert Doyle said at the time he was acting on the advice of the Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton, who said tourists in the city for the Australian Open were being harassed by rough sleepers.
“They’re not homeless, these are people that are choosing to camp in the city. There’s more people around for them to shake down for money,” Mr Ashton said.
The bylaw would have banned people from leaving items unattended in public and would expand the definition of camping to include those sleeping in blankets or swags.
At the time, welfare groups described the proposed law as shameful.
In an article for Croakey in February, director of clinical services for UnitingCare ReGen, Donna Ribton-Turner, argued the proposed laws would only exacerbate the issue of homelessness.
“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,” Ms 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.”
In backing away from the proposed ban, Mr Doyle said the council would enforce existing local laws, such as removing unattended tents.