Well wouldn’t you know it, it turns out the City of Melbourne‘s treatment of the homeless population – that caused qualms for city officials by camping and sleeping at key public locations during peak summer tourist times – is not only kinda shitty, but it might actually violate basic human rights, according to no less an authority than the United Nations.
The UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, blasted Melbourne’s proposed “homeless ban” – city bylaws that could potentially render sleeping rough in the CBD illegal and include the potential to fine people for leaving personal affects unattended on city streets – in a press release issued from Geneva earlier today.
The proposed bylaws, which came to the attention of Farha due to the global media coverage of the confronting homeless camp “eviction” from Flinders Street Station in early February, were described by Farha as potentially being in violation of international human rights law.
“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.”
“The criminalisation 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 penalising them because they are poor and have no place to live.”
Farha’s statement did acknowledge the fact that local Melbourne government officials are working with community groups and the public as they work towards tackling a population of homeless people that has spiked by 74% over the past two years. But she firmly asserted that any campaign that discourages donating to homeless people is flat-out unacceptable.
“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.”
“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.”
Officials for the City of Melbourne confirmed they did receive the letter from the UN and Farha, and have issued an official response. But they denied that the proposed new bylaws constituted any sort of ban on homelessness in the Melbourne CBD, insisting that they were working hard to reduce the spiralling number of displaced people sleeping rough on Melbourne’s streets.
Ms. Farha has also contacted the office of the Federal Attorney-General in regards to the issue. The UN asserts that under human rights law, Governments are required to take immediate steps to ensure the right to housing for homeless people is available on a short and long-term basis.
Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty.