Melbourne Mayor Ronald Doyle has announced his plan to ban sleeping in public streets, a measure which would criminalize and further disenfranchise the city’s homeless population.
Following a seemingly global trend of targeting the homeless, Melbourne, Australia is set to criminalize sleeping on public streets as a means of clamping down on the city’s homeless encampments. Last Thursday, Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle officially announced his proposal to criminalize sleeping within the city’s central business district, bowing to pressure from local police who want the authority to incarcerate the homeless for so-called “quality of life” crimes. Doyle’s proposition represents a significant reversal on his position regarding the city’s homeless as, just last week, he told the Age “There are cities around the world where they simply bundle homeless people up and ship them out. […] I’d hate to think that we were ever that sort of city. We need to address the problem, not just do a cosmetic clean-up.” Yet, Doyle’s reversal has all but ensured that Melbourne will follow in the footsteps of these cities by making the mere act of being homeless a criminal offense.
The mayor of Melbourne’s somewhat drastic change of heart followed dramatic statements from local police officers, who have strongly pressured Melbourne’s municipal government to grant them greater authority to arrest and remove the homeless from the city’s center. A few days prior to Doyle’s announcement, Victoria’s chief police commissioner Graham Ashton shared harsh words regarding his take on the city’s “disgusting” homeless problem with the local press. He asserted that the city’s homeless are faking their situation for their own economic benefit, saying that “These people are not homeless, these are people that are choosing to camp . . . because people are visiting the city at this time of year and there’s more people to shake down for money.” “There’s no reason people should be sleeping on the street, there are no reasons people should be homeless,” he added. “There’s more than enough beds and accommodation for people to access.” He went on to say that both uniformed and undercover Melbourne police officers, would begin targeting the homeless as well as beggars this week.
Ashton also made it no small secret that his views on how to deal with the homeless problem were influenced by the Australian Open and the resulting influx of tourists to the city. The city council, however, has insisted that the mayor’s decision and its current position on the issue are in no way influenced by the sporting event. Meetings between the Victorian government, police, the city council, and local homeless support groups are set to take place today. An agreement is expected to be reached soon after that will determine the ultimate fate of many of Melbourne’s homeless. Though there are many indications that some of the city’s homeless encampments are dangerous and filthy, criminalizing the act of being homeless does nothing to correct the root causes of the problem, as Melbourne’s mayor noted before his sudden about-face. It seems that Melbourne has become just the latest example of local governments failing to embrace an empathetic approach to its most vulnerable residents and this troubling trend suggests that it certainly won’t be the last.
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