Expert panel on homelessness condemns Melbourne’s proposed homeless bylaws

The Wheeler Centre has hosted a public, in-depth Q&A on homelessness featuring a panel of experts in the field, including:

  • Jenny Smith, Chair of Homelessness Australia and CEO of Council to Homeless Persons
  • Lucy Adams, Manger of Homeless Law
  • Erika, who has a lived experience of homelessness
  • Michael Perusco, CEO of Unison Community Housing

The panel took on questions from the audience and lent their expertise to some of the most pressing issues surrounding the homelessness crisis in Australia including; the inefficacy of Melbourne City’s Council’s proposed bylaws, how passersby can be respectful to homeless people, public perceptions of homeless and, what really works to end homelessness.  Here are some of the highlights from the event:

“As homelessness rises it seems ‘we’re also seeing a growing intolerance”  – Madeline Morris

Panel moderator Madeline Morris kicked off the Q&A with some hard facts about the rise of homelessness in Australia and the bylaws being considered by Melbourne City Council.

“The decisions that [homeless people] might make are pretty different to the decision you’d make if you weren’t under those same pressures.”  – Lucy Adams

Lucy Adams addressed the question of deterrence and the inefficacy of fines as a means of addressing homelessness and behavioural issues. 

“I think everybody’s on the same page in recognising that there’s a very real crisis or problem that needs responding to. The only thing that’s in debate at the minute is what’s the bets way to do it. “-Lucy Adams

Lucy Adams outlined the framework that’s been put forth by 54 expert organisations as an alternative to the proposed bylaws.  

“Treat people the way you like to be treated, with respect and dignity” – Erika

Erika, who has a lived experience of homelessness, gave a raw and honest answer to the audience question; ‘How can passersby interact with the homeless in a way that’s respectful?’

“We’ve all spoken to people who’ve actually said that some of these temporary arrangements are actually more frightening than being on the street…” – Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith took on the oft-raised question about the viability of ‘creative’ solutions to housing the homeless – in railway carriages/shipping containers or vacant office buildings.

“For every crisis accommodation need 26 permanent homes each year.” – Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith explained why we need to focus on systemic issues that cause homelessness, not just providing crisis accommodation. 

“You have a housing market out of control, prices increasing and a decrease in the amount of social housing. The only way to rectify that is increased investment by government in social housing.” – Michael Perusco

CEO of Unison Community Housing Michael Perusco explained in numbers why desperately need more social housing in order to really address homelessness. 

“The cost of criminalising homeless people and banning them from sleeping on the streets is much higher than housing them outright  – how do we explain to Melbourne City Council that kindness is economically rational?”- Audience Question

Lucy Adams drew on examples from overseas that clearly demonstrate that criminalising homelessness is a burden on the public pocket, on our police, our courts and also, doesn’t work. 

You can see more highlights from the event on our YouTube channel here