By KIERAN FINNANE
At a time when the massive government efforts are being made in Alice Springs and Central Australia towards the provision of housing, including temporary accommodation options, a number of non-government organisations (NGOs) this morning launched the Right to a Home coalition.
In their sights were, in particular, the Alice Springs Town Council and its public places by-laws, enacted last year. The coalition, through spokesperson David Havercroft of the advocacy body NT Shelter, called on the council to amend the by-laws where they are having “a negative impact” on the homeless, and to develop a “social inclusion” policy. This would be about taking steps “to bring about positive change in the lives of these people”, in contrast to moving them on and fining them when the alternatives to sleeping rough are limited.
The removal by council rangers of swags and bedding left in public places – among the by-law provisions described as “punitive” – shows a “disregard” for the plight of the homeless, said Mr Havercroft.
Council has been enforcing its no camping in public places by-law since the opening in February of the Apmere Mwerre visitor park on Len Kittle Drive. However the park, with its maximum two-week stay, is not a “panacea” for homelessness, said Mr Havercroft. The alternative of visitors staying with family and friends, whether in town camps or in public housing, leads to overcrowding and its attendant problems.
He acknowledged the “significant” government housing initiatives in Alice Springs but said there was no choice but for governments to spend more money, providing more housing stock and allied services to address the “horribly high” incidence of homelessness in Alice Springs. He cited a figure drawn from a national report, of 187 people per every 10,000 as homeless in Alice Springs, compared to the national average of 53 per 10,000, and said that authors of the report had suggested that Aboriginal people may be undercounted by as much as 19%. The coalition wants the local rate to be brought in line with the national average.
Speaking to media after the launch, Mr Havercroft said no camping by-laws were appropriate with respect to people such as backpackers, but said exceptions should be made when the homeless were “the people of this land”, that is, Aboriginal.
He suggested that, as long as there is a dearth of short-term and transitional accommodation, council should provide services to campers, such as ablution blocks, but acknowledged that such a provision would in all likelihood encourage greater numbers.
He acknowledged the complexity for governments of visitors arriving in town without adequately planning for where they would stay, and of people with housing in bush settlements who live for prolonged periods in town.
He called on governments to work “with precision and leanly” in planning housing provision, but said he did not know enough detail about SIHIP spending to make a comment on its approach.
The idea to form a coalition began about a year ago, at a time when the Town Council was preparing to enact its by-laws, and agencies, responding to the plight of people sleeping rough during a period of miserable, cold wet days, were being warned against providing them with tents and bedding.
Organisations represented at the launch were: Alice Springs Youth Accommodation and Support Service, Amnesty International Australia, Arid Lands Environment Centre, Australian Red Cross, BushMob, Central Australian Affordable Housing, Drug & Alcohol Services Association, Mental Health Association of Central Australia, NT Shelter, NT Council of Social Service, and Tangentyere Council.
Enforcement of the no camping by-law:
The Town Council began enforcing its no public places by-laws once the visitor park opened in February, issuing 13 public places infringements in that month, two of them for camping without a permit.
In March there was a big jump: 200 infringements were issued, but only 41 were for camping without a permit. 141 were for drinking liquor in public.
In April, 32 infringements were issued, seven for camping without a permit. In May, the figures were 17 and seven; in June, 26 and 15.
Picture below: This morning’s launch. The speaker is David Havercroft.