Melbs Moves Away From Rough Sleeping Ban After Homelessness Crisis Meeting

In an equally unexpected and welcome turnaround, Melbourne Lord mayor Robert Doyle has apparently distanced himself from earlier statements implying he wanted to criminalise rough sleeping on the city’s streets. 

That being said, his reported clarification still seems like cold comfort for Melbourne’s homeless.
Last week, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said many who appear homeless are looking to “shake down” tourists amid the Australian Open. 
Subsequently, Doyle appeared to back a stronger police response to the issue, saying “police already have powers to arrest for obstruction, for drug use, for threatening or aggressive behaviour, and for begging, and I would like to see them make full use of those powers as well.”

Doyle also said he supported “any move by police to bring an end to what has become a blight on our city,” and it was believed he’d propose a ban on sleeping rough at the next council meeting.
According to Kate Colvin of Council to Homeless Persons, who met with Doyle today for a crisis meeting, it’s now understood “the lord mayor is not imposing move on powers, or introducing summary offences to criminalise homelessness.”

Instead, she said Doyle is specifically worried about “mattresses and other bulky items being present on the streets.

“He’s looking at bylaws to resolve that particular problem – potentially enabling council officers to remove those belongings.”
According to Colvin, Doyle said he never had a plan to introduce move on laws. It’s currently unclear if Doyle walked back from an original stance of tough police action on the matter, or if his earlier (and very unfortunate) statement was simply misinterpreted that way.
While the confiscation of personal belongings is hardly something to celebrate, it is a drastic change from outright criminalising homelessness, which would only serve to make life that much more difficult for the city’s rough sleepers. 

The current furore around Melbourne’s homeless population has been stoked by intensified media coverage of homeless people encamped near Flinders Street Station.

Expect this one to play out long after the Open wraps up.

Source: The Age.
Photo: Scott Barbour / Getty.