Thanks, Madam Chair; my question is to the LORD MAYOR. A general principle of legislative drafting is that laws which limit individual freedom should be reasonable, clearly defined and well adapted to their purpose. Section 25(4) of the Public Land and Council Assets Local Law states, “A person may not sleep rough on any Council infrastructure.”
The practical effect of subsection 25(4) is to make it unlawful for a homeless person to sleep rough on a public bench. Given that the Local Law already includes other separate sections which deal with specific Council infrastructure such as ferry terminals and other infrastructure that it might be dangerous for someone to sleep on, does the LORD MAYOR agree that the very broad subsection 25(4) should be redrafted more narrowly so that people can’t be fined for sleeping overnight on a public bench that no one else is using?
Chairman: LORD MAYOR.
I thank Councillor SRI for the question. We have laws in place, and then we have the application in relation to those laws. This city has in place certain laws relating to public places; certain activities that can and cannot occur in those public places. In terms of the application of that law, we have broadly taken a firm but fair view. That firm but fair view in relation to homelessness has been one where we have officers of this Council who work with our homeless community in this city.
Very recently I had the opportunity, as I do on every occasion, to attend Homeless Connect. That is another opportunity—and I thank other Councillors such as Councillor HOWARD who attended that particular event, and Councillor BOURKE. At that event there is an opportunity for engagement as well. But specifically to the issue of public infrastructure, we have to take, in my view, a reasonable approach. We work with our homeless people to make sure that we have two things; that we don’t simply allow people to sleep wherever they want to in this city whenever they want to in this city. I don’t believe that that is in the public interest broadly either.
But we absolutely understand that homelessness comes in many forms. It comes as a result of financial circumstances; it can come because of mental health issues and potentially, obviously, domestic violence issues as well. So there are many things that bring about homelessness.
I am absolutely sympathetic to the circumstances of homeless people. We have in this city many vans that support those people who are on the streets of our city. I happen to be one who has a view that I don’t think the current system of vans works particularly well. I believe it is entrenching circumstances rather than correcting and uplifting those people who are homeless. I am continuing to work with many agencies out there whom I congratulate on the heart that they bring to this city in undertaking that volunteering work of providing people with support on the streets. I have a view that there is a better way, and will continue to work towards that.
But Madam Chairman, that said, I don’t believe it is either appropriate to allow people to simply sleep on any bench at any time in this city that they want to. I don’t believe that’s the way we ought to be, the way we ought to go. So, for that reason, we have officers of this Council who work with other agencies. Our first priority is always to try and find emergency accommodation for those homeless people.
The reality is, as I have said here before, that not every homeless person wants to take up that opportunity. Our most famous homeless person in this city has the financial capacity to own a home, but chooses not to; again, for most probably mental health issues. That is the reality. Why people want to choose in some cases to live in squalor is nothing more than a mental health issue.
It is a complex question. I appreciate that Councillor SRI has some very fixed and firm views on this matter. Equally, we have to make sure that we have a city which is not only safe but is perceived to be safe, not only for our general residents but also for our homeless people. So, through the agencies of this Council, those working daily with our homeless people in our city, together with other agencies, we will continue to work on what is a situation that we all, I think, want to see improved.