Human Rights and Homeless Nights

Important lessons
were learnt about homelessness and human rights at the Human Rights and Homeless Nights forum in Sydney on Monday 2 August

Launched by the Hon. Linda
Burney, NSW Minister for Community Services, the forum was co-hosted by
Homelessness NSW and the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service* as part of the
National Homeless Persons’ Week, 2-8 August.

For this year’s
theme, the National Homeless Persons’ Week asked the question: ‘will you be
homeless in 2020’.

The answer from
participants in the Human Rights and
Homeless Nights
forum was that until we recognise the human rights of
homeless people, and until homeless people are participating effectively in
government and service decision-making, our effort to eliminate homelessness
will fail.

To illustrate the
point, consumer representatives, Kevin, Veronica and AJ shared their
experiences of dealing with services and law enforcement agencies such as the
police and transit officers.

‘There are procedures
in place about how to deal with homeless people appropriately, but a lot of the
officers don’t know about these procedures or don’t follow them’, said AJ.

‘There aren’t enough
24-hours services that homeless people can go to. Over-the-top OH&S
requirements have made it really hard for services to provide the support that
homeless people really need’, said Kevin.

Veronica, the youth
consumer representative also explained that she was evicted from a
religion-based youth accommodation because she couldn’t comply with its
inflexible rules.

‘I respected their
rules, but I’m not a Catholic and I was over 18, their rules were simply not
fair’, she said. 

There was concern at
the forum that the election campaigns from both sides of politics had neglected
to address homelessness.

‘It would be shameful
to see all the good work that has been done by the Rudd government undone after
the election,’ said Ms Robin Banks, Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in
Tasmania, in her presentation on why homelessness is a breach of universal
human rights.

Ms Janet Meagher, the
Secretary of the World Federation for Mental Health and a prominent Mental
Health Consumer activist, summarised the sentiment at the forum: ‘… real change
can come about if government and services seriously support the empowerment of
people who are homeless to become their own advocate. If consumers are the ones
that are driving government policies and services, perhaps in five years time
at the National Homeless Persons’ Week, we will be celebrating our success on
redressing homelessness, instead of lamenting our failures’. 

For more photos of this event please go to HPLS facebook page.

* The Homeless
Persons’ Legal Service (HPLS) is a joint initiative of the Public Interest
Advocacy Centre and the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) NSW. PIAC
receives funding from the NSW Attorney General, the Hon John Hatzistergos MLC,
through the NSW Public Purpose Fund to operate the Service.

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