Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

Homeless ban would criminalise the poor

In a callous attempt to maintain Melbourne’s “world’s most liveable city” status, the City of Melbourne, supported by the Victoria Police, are pushing to introduce harsh new by-laws to sweep away homeless people and “clean up” the CBD.

Council’s plan is to widen the ban on “camping” in the CBD beyond tents and cars to include sleeping bags and even cardboard. They also want to give police the power to move rough-sleepers on, issue fines, and confiscate or impound belongings left unattended.

Council funds have also been committed to a campaign to “educate” the public to direct donations of money, food and goods only to nominated service providers rather than directly to disadvantaged people.

In anticipation of a crackdown, it seems that surging numbers of homeless people are relocating to the Geelong/Barwon region. Reports have already come in that support services there are at capacity and unable to provide any long-term solutions.

Dispersion away from the Melbourne CBD to regional areas will only compound the desperation felt by this vulnerable and marginalised group, with rough-sleepers saying they fear for their safety. They say that the Melbourne CBD is preferable as there is a sense of safety in numbers and they are in closer proximity to services.

If implemented, the by-laws will effectively criminalise the homeless. Most likely it will lead to people increasingly finding themselves caught up in the justice system, especially if they are issued with fines or charged with offences connected to finding shelter.

Some legal experts are warning that the laws could breach international human rights laws for penalising and discriminating against the poor for having nowhere to live. Socialists oppose the introduction of these laws which heartlessly prioritise the interests of businesses above human need. We instead demand massive investment in public housing to address the root cause of the homelessness crisis.

By Robyn Trott