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Proposed ‘Homeless Ban’ in Australia cause for concern: UN expert

“Homes fix homelessness not laws.”

Amendments to a local law in Melbourne, Australia, targeting homeless people living on the streets have triggered serious international human rights concern.

The proposed measures include a ban on camping in Melbourne and the potential for penalties to be imposed on anyone who leaves items unattended in public.  The city council is due to vote on the proposed changes on 17 March.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, said “While homeless people are not specifically referenced, it is clear they are the target; the amendment was put forward following the forcible removal of a homeless camp in the city centre last month.”

Jenny Smith, CEO, Council to Homeless Persons said, “Soon City of Melbourne Councillors will vote on whether we are to become a city that punishes people for being homeless, or a city that continues its humanitarian track record on homelessness.  Melbourne could be about to make international headlines for all the wrong reasons.”

“These proposed laws won’t fix anything, and will force vulnerable people into darker corners and factory floors of our city,” said Smith.

“The State Government has made some excellent commitments in recent months to boost social housing, but much of this housing won’t come down the pipeline for many months, if not years. Punishing people now when there is not housing for them is cruel and ineffective.

“Until we address the housing affordability crisis, we’ll see more people arriving on our streets, and if these laws are passed, instead of getting help they’ll be getting fines and when they don’t pay, costly time in jail.”

Smith said that homes fix homelessness not laws.

Farha said, “The criminalization of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law. It’s bad enough that homeless people are being swept off the streets by city officials. The proposed law goes further and is discriminatory – stopping people from engaging in life sustaining activities, and penalizing them because they are poor and have no place to live.”

The Special Rapporteur released a report on homelessness as a global human rights crisis, last year. Farha has also been in contact with the Australian Government to discuss the issues in question.

“While it is commendable that the local government is consulting the public on the proposed changes to the law, the discriminatory nature of the amendments and the accompanying public campaign discouraging donations to homeless people is unacceptable,” Farha stressed.

There has been a 74 per cent increase in the homeless population in Melbourne over a two-year period prompting concern from residents and local advocates. In 2016 it was estimated that 250 people were sleeping rough in the city.

“The local council now has an opportunity to reverse its course at the next vote and reconsider the proposed changes. I encourage the city to focus on its human rights obligations, which leave no room for discrimination,” Farha said. She added she was looking forward to the response from the Australian government and would be watching the situation closely.

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