By Khiara Elliott
The public consultation phase of the local law amendment on rough sleeping has closed and the results were, unsurprisingly and unwaveringly, not in council’s favour.
The proposed amendment dictates a change in the definition of camping and allows council officers to remove any unattended belongings of rough sleepers, as well as charge them $388 to retrieve their possessions.
The idea that someone with no steady income can afford almost $400 to retrieve their petty possessions is impossible to fathom, especially when the sum is probably higher than the total cost of these items if purchased brand new.
The City of Melbourne (CoM) received an overwhelming number of submissions, including 717 formal submissions, 1637 responses to the online survey and 202 face-to-face responses from rough sleepers, advisory committees and disability groups.
Of the total 2556 submissions received, almost 90 per cent opposed the amendment and 98 per cent opposed the proposed fine.
According to a report released on March 30, there was a consistent view amongst submitters that the proposed amendment would not help or change the homeless epidemic and was an “informal referendum on homelessness”.
Responses to the amendment expressed “moral outrage” against the council, with many calling for more compassionate leadership.
Many submissions from homeless people and advisory committees warned of increased crime and suicide rates.
“It will cause crime, a lot of angry poor people will lose their composure as they have absolutely nothing to lose, including their freedom as jail will be heaven – e.g. bed, three meals a day, work, pay packet, gymnasium etc,” one submitter said.
“Homeless people – a lot of them will commit suicide,” another said.
When people are considering jail as “heaven”, we know that our leaders have failed our homeless community.
The consensus among submitters was that council rushed into proposing the amendment and lacked sufficient evidence, thinking and policy support in creating the proposal.
There was also a shared view that the amendment would criminalise the homeless rather than helping them.
On April 6, the submissions committee resolved to adjourn its meeting until 3pm, Wednesday, May 24 to ensure adequate time to consider all submissions received.
With its back against the wall, council’s next steps are crucial.
Proceed with the amendment and it faces an even larger uproar. Or, listen to the community it claims to serve, admit defeat and drop the amendment.
Facing such an overwhelming resistance, it would be ill-advised for council to go ahead with the proposed amendment.
As an outside party, it is uncomfortable to watch council barge and bash its way through dealing with the homelessness epidemic, but one can only hope it realises the impact the proposed amendment will have on not only the homeless community, but also community of the CBD and its faith in its leaders.
The homeless epidemic is a situation that needs to be treated with diplomacy and compassion – qualities that our community feels have been missing from council as of late.