Don’t criminalise homelessness!

In early 2017, the City of Melbourne proposed cruel new laws that would effectively criminalise homelessness. We stopped them.

Since 2014, the number of people sleeping rough in the City of Melbourne has increased by 74%. In response to this increase (and in the face of heavy negative media coverage throughout January 2017) the City of Melbourne proposed changes to the Local Law via the Activities (Public Amenity and Security) Local Law 2017.

Key aspects of the proposed changes were:

  • Broadening the ban on camping.
    By removing the current reference to ‘a vehicle, tent, caravan or any type of temporary or provisional form of accommodation’, clause 2.8 would have provided: ‘Unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not camp in or on any public place’
  • Providing for confiscation and disposal of unattended items, as well as a fine of $250 for leaving items unattended.
    The proposed changes suggest a new clause 2.12 of the Local Law which would have made it illegal to leave items unattended in a public place. If belongings were left unattended, an authorised officer could confiscate and impound the item. Authorities could also sell, destroy, or give away the item if the owner didn’t pay the fine within 14 days.

What would these changes have meant?

The proposed ban on camping was extremely broad and would have effectively made it an offence to sleep on the streets (noting that ‘camp’ was not defined).

When people live their lives in public spaces, leaving belongings can be unavoidable. If someone needs to leave their goods out temporarily (while they go to the toilet, for example), they may need to pay a fee to get them back. That’s unfair to place on people who can’t afford it.

What did we do about it?

We teamed up with law firms, community groups and homelessness services to tell the City of Melbourne that we can’t arrest our way out of homelessness. Don’t criminalise homelessness, because criminalisation is not the answer. Through our submissions, we showed that there are better ways to improve the problem of homelessness in our city: ways that are effective, impactful and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Our campaign changed the media conversation and rallied the entire sector.

Working together, we put the pressure on the government to abandon the harsh, unfair proposed laws. Together, we stopped homelessness being criminalised in our city. There’s still more work to do to change unfair laws that affect people facing homelessness. Our campaign showed us that when we take a stand, we can have a real impact.

Related submissions

Submission to the Lord Mayor – Don’t criminalise homelessness Download PDF (350 KB)
Don’t criminalise homelessness – statements from homelessness, housing and social services agencies Download PDF (432 KB)
Don’t criminalise homelessness – joint media release from homelessness services Download PDF (470 KB)
In the Public Eye – Churchill Report (2013) Download PDF (4 MB)
Asking for change – a better response to begging Download PDF (1,011 KB)

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