By Paul Dobbyn
PROPOSED Brisbane City Council legislation to give officers the power to fine homeless people sleeping in parks has been described as “unnecessary and like kicking people when they’re down”.
Rosies chief executive officer Troy Bailey said the proposed Public Land and Council Asset local law 2014 would open up a “Pandora’s Box of problems for the homeless” in the region.
“Police already have sufficient powers to deal with the issue and are trained to use their discretion when dealing with rough sleepers in parks,” he said.
“The fines under the new legislation can amount to thousands of dollars … it’s ridiculous – you can’t get blood out of a stone.”
Mr Bailey also criticised the council for inadequate notice to welfare groups about the consultation period for the proposed new legislation.
Queensland St Vincent de Paul chief executive officer Peter Maher said, while sharing some of Mr Bailey’s concerns, he had some sympathy for the council’s situation.
“Both sides of the argument needed to be looked at,” he said.
“Sometimes hard decision`s have to be made in these situations.
“In many ways we would support the legislation – encouraging people to come out to hang around parks can be very dangerous.”
“Sometimes we hear of brawls breaking out amongst people after vans have left.
“Also what is the cost of having police patrolling these parks?
“As many people know our society’s philosophy is ‘a hand up not a hand out’.
“We need to address the issues of how people become homeless.
“What do we need to do to ensure they don’t become homeless in the first place?”
Mr Maher said a good way forward was to give such people a sense of their own dignity.
“Why aren’t we using restaurants after closing time or creating some permanent arrangements in community or parish halls to feed these people so they can sit down to a meal,” he said.
“For this reason, I often question the Street Swag approach, you know giving someone some bedding to help them sleep in a park.
“No person should be homeless in 21st Century Australia – to me it’s about education … teach him or her how to cook, to get cheap food, to budget, to seek safe temporary accommodation and so on.”
Mr Bailey said the problem still remained where people with no homes would go if they were moved on from the city’s parks.
“I have spoken with police on various occasions and they’ve told me they often use discretion in these matters,” he said.
“My fear is that if council officers get this new power it will go to their heads,” he said.
“Their brief will be to clear the park up; this also means throwing anything out that belongs to these homeless people, even their back packs and bedding; it’s just kicking people when they’re down.”
Lack of Brisbane City Council consultation over the proposed new legislation was another concern, Mr Bailey said.
“The first I heard of it was through Councillor Helen Abrahams’ newsletter sent to me by a concerned citizen,” he said.
“This came a week before the end of the public consultation period on the proposed legislation.
“I also attended a meeting of welfare groups including Micah, Vital Connection and the Red Cross which support homeless people sleeping in parks.
“These groups were also just finding about the proposed legislation – it’s not good enough.”
A Brisbane City Council statement said the propose legislation intended to amalgamate 11 different local laws into one.
“There will be no change to the current process for not for profit groups seeking to use park facilities under the proposed new local law,” the statement said.
“Not for profit groups, churches and charities will remain exempt from paying for a park permit, as has always been the case.
“No park permits will be necessary for any individuals or organisations using parks unless they are undertaking a commercial activity or requiring exclusive use of a booked site.”
The BCC statement also addressed the issue of so-called “rough sleepers”.
“Council works closely with a number of community organisations to provide meals, accommodation and connect the homeless with a range of other support services,” they said.
“Nevertheless, Council needs the ability to address rough sleeping on public infrastructure such as CBD footpaths and bus stops.