10 things that Melbourne could do instead of making it illegal to sleep rough

6 April 2017
Homelessness services, legal experts and church leaders make a final, constructive appeal to abandon proposed local laws

Justice Connect has worked with 54 leading homelessness, housing, legal and faith groups to present the Melbourne City Council with an alternative to the proposed local laws that make it illegal to sleep rough in the CBD.

Already, over 2,500 individuals and organisations (a mix of residents, visitors, businesses, people experiencing homelessness and organisations) have given feedback to the City of Melbourne about the proposed changes.  An overwhelming 84% oppose the proposed laws.

As an alternative to these laws, the Proposed Framework for Responding Effectively to Homelessness in the City Of Melbourne sets out a suite of evidence-based, practical measures that address the Council’s challenges, without enacting punitive and ineffective laws.

The plan combines the expertise of 54 leading organisations and ranges from very practical measures like more lockers and storage through to long-term solutions such as pursuing the Housing First model that helped 90% of Utah’s rough sleepers find a roof to sleep under.

 

Here’s a snapshot of the framework:

  1. More lockers and storage for rough sleepers. This would reduce belongings being kept on the streets and prevent people’s documents and possessions being destroyed.
  2. Clear guidance about belongings. Like Sydney’s ‘two bags and a swag’ guidance, clear communication from Council about amounts of belongings could help to strike a balance between the needs of homeless people and the need for streets to be accessible.
  3. More safe spaces at night. Programs offering a safe alternative to sleeping rough could be expanded and further integrated with support services that help people find permanent ways out of homelessness.
  4. Daily Support Teams. Council’s team of specialist homeless outreach workers can form a direct partnership with external homelessness support agencies to connect with people sleeping rough and coordinate effective responses.
  5. Collaboration between businesses, homeless services and people who’ve experienced homelessness. Training for CBD workers who are likely to encounter homelessness will support them to give informed responses and referrals to appropriate services.  
  6. Involve people experiencing homelessness in solutions. Engaging and consulting with people experiencing homelessness will help to inform effective, practical solutions.
  7. Do what works elsewhere (and avoid what doesn’t). Council could adopt successful approaches such as those taken by Utah, which reduced rough sleeping by 91% using the Housing First model. In contrast, Los Angeles had some of the toughest laws against homelessness in the world, while simultaneously having the highest concentration of homelessness as the United States.
  8. Help the public understand the causes of homelessness. Helping the public understand that homelessness is due to systemic failures, not individual choices will lead to better informed responses across the community at large.
  9. Prevention. The Council could continue to support services and legal frameworks that prevent avoidable evictions into homelessness.
  10. Housing with support. Lack of access to long-term housing with support continues to be the greatest barrier reducing rough sleeping. While it is not Council’s role to tackle this single-handedly, Council’s response to homelessness must recognise this and Council must continue to be a leader and advocate for ongoing investment in affordable housing. Progress is being made, with 6,000 new social housing properties being delivered over the next five years by the Victorian Government, but those homes are a long way off hitting the ground, and will only skim the top off the 33,000 people waiting for public housing in Victoria.  As the Framework states:

if access to affordable and appropriate housing was available and there was capacity to provide the flexible support people with more complex needs require to remain housed we could reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough to a very small group at any given time”.

 

Councillors will soon vote on whether Melbourne is to become a city that punishes people for being homeless, or a city that continues its humanitarian track record and sound social policy on homelessness.

The collective expert advice of over 50 agencies and community groups is that new laws will do nothing to solve homelessness, and will only make things worse for already very disadvantaged people, locking them into a complicated and expensive court system, and lumping them with fines they can’t pay.

We cannot arrest our way out of the homelessness crisis. Homes fix homelessness, not laws.

The City of Melbourne cannot solve this problem alone and it won’t solve it by introducing a local law making it a crime to sleep rough.

We look forward to working closely with the City of Melbourne to manage what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis.

A link to the full framework is available here.