Update on proposed homeless by-laws

The beginning of 2017 has been largely dominated by a media-led uproar over people rough sleeping at Flinders Street Station, and the subsequent proposal to reform City of Melbourne by-laws to expand the definition of camping and to impose fines and confiscation of belongings on people who are homeless in the CBD and adjoining suburbs.

The Future Melbourne Committee meeting voted 5:4 to take the draft by-laws to the next stage of Council’s law reform process; a public consultation. The 28-day consultation period is now open, and submissions close on 17 March.

We encourage individuals and organisations to speak up for the rights of people who would be targeted by these by-laws. You can participate by:

Justice Connect’s Homeless Law has created an excellent website Don’t Criminalise Homelessness which lays out exactly what the bylaw proposal means for those sleeping rough.

In short, the proposed amendments to clause 2.8 of the City of Melbourne Activities Local Law 2009 says: ‘unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not camp in or on any public place’. The definition of camping would be amended in a way that would include rough sleeping.

The City of Melbourne has also proposed amendments to insert a new provision clause 2.12 into the Local Law to bar people from leaving items unattended in a public place. It would allow for belongings to be confiscated and impounded and then sold, destroyed or given away unless a substantial fee is paid within 14 days.

For our part, Council to Homeless Persons is concerned that these by-laws would have a disproportionately negative impact on people who are already highly vulnerable; punishing them for being homeless and pulling them into the justice system. At the same time, they by-laws won’t have any impact on reducing homelessness or even moving it off the streets of the CBD. Countries around the world that impose punitive responses to homelessness have seen little success in reducing rough sleeping.

By-laws don’t address the reasons why people are sleeping on the street. The causes of homelessness need urgent attention and a focus on hiding ‘the problem’ or moving people into less public areas just makes them more vulnerable and less likely to access the services they need.

The only solution to all forms of homelessness is for state and federal governments to tackle the housing crisis together. In the short term, that would mean the immediate spot purchase or head- leasing of new social housing. 

In the meantime we urge Councillors who will vote on the by-laws at the April Council Meeting to not proceed with an option that will have a harmful impact on vulnerable people, creating practical challenges for those with nowhere else to sleep, as well as sending a damaging symbolic message that people are not welcome.

Schedule of City of Melbourne Homelessness By-Law Consultations – no bookings required

The City of Melbourne invites members of the public, clients of homelessness services and workers to attend one of the following sessions where you will be able to share your views at a face-to-face survey session being run by Resolve Community Consulting.

Some members of the survey team have previously experienced homelessness.

The information you provide will remain anonymous but will be included in a report to Council to help them decide whether or not to go ahead with the proposed changes to the local law.

The details of the survey sessions are:




Wednesday, 1 March

The Living Room

7-9 Hosier Lane


10am – 12pm

Thursday 2 March

St Peters Breakfast

15 Gisborne Street

West Melbourne


Thursday 2 March

Ozanam Community Centre

268 Abbotsford Street

North Melbourne


Thursday 2 March

Salvation Army

Bourke Street



Thursday 2 March

WIRE Amica program

372 Spencer Street



Friday 3 March

St Peters BBQ

15 Gisborne Street

East Melbourne


Friday 3 March

Launch Housing South Bank

52 Haig Street

South Melbourne


Monday 6 March

Frontyard Youth Services

19 King Street



Tuesday 7 March

Billabong BBQ

Harmsworth Park



Thursday 9 March

Cohealth Central City Health Services

53 Victoria Street