Ending homelessness together

Ending homelessness together

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

More than 800 policymakers and practitioners from across Australia recently came together at the National Homelessness Conference to discuss how to adopt policies and housing models that can effectively tackle homelessness.

Convened by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute and Homelessness Australia, the conference was timed to coincide with Homelessness Week (6 to 12 August) – this year’s theme is ‘ending homelessness together’ – which aims to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed to achieve enduring solutions.

Speaking on a panel at the conference, our new Strategic Advocacy and Policy Manager in Civil Justice, Lucy Adams said, ‘It’s no surprise that if you don’t have adequate housing your chances of interacting with the justice system significantly increase.'

Last financial year, Victoria Legal Aid assisted 4942 clients experiencing homelessness, which was an increase of 13 per cent.

Lucy’s address was informed by her work as the former Head of Homeless Law and Advocacy at Justice Connect, as well as a Churchill Fellowship she undertook considering alternatives to enforcement-based approaches to homelessness and poverty.

‘Access to legal assistance has a crucial role to play in preventing homelessness and reducing the heavy impact of the law on people experiencing homelessness.

‘With our courts and justice system already under strain, we need to think carefully about whether fines and charges are the most effective tool we have for tackling homelessness and poverty.

‘Both local and international evidence shows that they are not. Enforcement-based approaches to homelessness increase isolation, put a greater strain on the justice system, risk breaching human rights and are out of touch with broader community sentiment.

‘We know what works, which is long-term social housing with support,’ said Lucy.

Image of cardboard cutout house

In 2017, the City of Melbourne proposed tough new local laws to respond to people sleeping rough, including broader bans on camping and leaving your items unattended.

There was an outpouring of concern from across the homelessness and justice sectors and the community more generally to these laws. More than 2500 people and organisations responded to the community consultation regarding the proposed laws and 84 per cent opposed their introduction.

In June 2018, the Melbourne City Council confirmed the laws would not go ahead.

‘In 2017, Melbourne became one of the many cities around the world tempted by the idea of using tougher laws to address growing numbers of people sleeping on our streets.

'We should be proud that our city was able to step away from those local laws before they were passed.

‘However, even without new laws, there are still a number of local and Victorian laws regulating public spaces under which people sleeping rough can be fined, charged, moved on or have their belongings confiscated.

‘We need an ongoing effort from all corners of the community and government to be accountable for effective, compassionate and proven approaches to ending homelessness,’ said Lucy.

More information

If you are homeless, find out about the services that can help you with legal matters, financial hardship and family violence.

Read about Getting help with fines.

Read about Housing and tenancy.

The Everybody’s Home campaign sets out five clear steps governments can take for a better, fairer housing system for everyone.

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