The unprecedented public health orders that have been put place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to bear particularly harshly on people experiencing homelessness, especially those sleeping rough.
We’ve been in contact with the NSW Attorney General and other relevant ministers, to express our concerns about aspects of the new laws. In particular, it seems that orders restricting gatherings do not address the circumstances of people sleeping on the streets, who are especially vulnerable during this public health crisis.
We’ve also highlighted these issues in the media. ‘Often homeless people will sleep near others because of the availability of shelter or safety and what we’re concerned that these laws may be used in a way that effectively criminalises rough sleepers trying to stay safe,’ said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor, in The Guardian.
‘There’s a protocol for homelessness in public spaces that police are signed on to and a fundamental principle of that is don’t bother people minding their own business. We want to make sure that holds…’
The government has since assured PIAC that the focus of their efforts is on supporting people to get into accommodation without the involvement of police and that NSW Police will continue to respect the Protocol.
PIAC will continue to monitor these issues through its membership of the Sydney Rough Sleeping COVID-19 Taskforce.
You can find hear more about the criminalization of homelessness and COVID-19 in this podcast of ABC RN’s The Law Report, which features Roslyn Cook and Maddy Humphries from PIAC’s Homeless Persons’ Legal Service, as well as Damo from StreetCare.
Image: The Guardian