By Joe Montero
The people who have been calling Sydney’s tent city at Martin Place, have become a symbol of the escalating crisis of homelessness across Australia.
Sadly, it has also become a symbol of the cavalier way the homeless are treated by the authorities. There are those who view those sleeping out in the streets as an eye sort to be hidden away as quickly as possible, so that the better healed will not be upset by the sight. To be homeless is to be somewhat less than human. Little more than refuse top be discarded.
Do we really want to live in a world where our fellow human beings are treated this way? Thankfully, most don’t and this is evidenced by the wave of support that has come to the homeless and disgust at the reaction of the authorities in both Melbourne and Sydney. There is a growing call for treating those who find themselves without a home with dignity and respect and for the provision of sufficient decent and affordable housing. It gives hope that the world can be made into a better place.
Everybody knows that the number of those living in the streets has been increasing rapidly in recent years, not because there are more bad people, but because a home is falling out of reach of a rising proportion of Australian society. Housing is too expensive and living standards are going down for many. Yes, there are those with disabilities, who by the way, are also entitled to be treated properly. There are also those who have found themselves under the stars because they are unemployed or have other reasons for finding themselves in serious poverty.
Poverty is not a crime and the poor should not be punished for it. This is a social problem and the result of the failure of the economy to provide for the needs of all, meaning, that it is a problem that can only be solved by society as a whole.
At Martin Place, the city council is providing what it calls a temporary and safe place to meet and get support.
It is hard to see this as anything more than another attempt at a cosmetic solution that does not even attempt to overcome the problem of homelessness. People need somewhere to sleep and the suggestion by Lord Mayor Clover Moore that all are going to be looked after by NSW Family of Community Services, does not wash, since there is not enough suitable and affordable housing in existence. If there was, there wouldn’t be a growing homelessness problem in the first place.
Once again, the solution offered is to sweep the problem under the carpet.
Martin place has become problematic, because the tent city is out the front door of Reserve Bank. The toffs want it gone and it looks like forceful removal will take place soon.
The row over the handling of the issue will not disappear easily. The homeless will still be in the streets. They may also be angrier and more determined to make their stand for human rights and dignity.
The homeless congregate, because like the rest of us, they do not want to be isolated and seek out the company of those they have something in common with, who are not judgmental and with whom they can share stories and find information. Homeless people will also congregate in places where they have better access to their needs. This is natural. It is why they are in Martin Place and an attempt to shove the camp to another less suitable location is not going to work.
A 24-hour safe meeting place, even if sleeping is banned there, will at least meet some of these needs. It will also be a place where they can share their frustrations and organize themselves collectively to become a louder voice.
The founder of the 24-7 Street Kitchen, Lanz Priestley, responded with, “If we don’t have somewhere for them to sleep, we still have the same problem… A safe space includes a space for people to sleep in my mind. It’s absurd to provide a safe space when they are awake but not when they are asleep”.
There is clearly some unfinished business here.