BY RYAN QUINN
A City of Sydney councillor’s plan to ‘intercept’ homeless people at Central Station before they reach the CBD was shut down in a council meeting on Monday September 14.
Liberal Councillor Christine Forster’s plan was in reaction to the rising number of homeless people who had come to camp in parks in the inner city.
But council thwarted her plan to intervene with the movement of homeless people, and voted seven to three against the plan.
Clr Forster said that Central Station was often the main entry point to the city.
“I think the homeless intervention on the ground is a good idea. It’s low-cost. It hopefully would engage with people before they get established in camping sites, in Belmore Park or elsewhere,” Clr Forster told City Hub.
“It was my thinking that if we could have a visible presence of somebody in Central Station that is saying ‘if you’re coming to Sydney, you don’t have a house or a bed for the night, come and speak to us,’ then we might be able to prevent a lot of these people getting established in a pattern of rough-sleeping,” she said.
The number of those sleeping adjacent to Central Station in Belmore Park had recently doubled to 50, with council papers blaming a lack of affordable housing and appropriate support services for the homeless.
Clr Forster’s motion was opposed by Independent Deputy Lord Mayor Robyn Kemmis, who won an alternative motion to restart the successful ‘Common Ground’ project.
The Common Ground project, which started in 2011, saw 104 affordable and social housing units provided to homeless people in Camperdown through a partnership between the council and Mission Australia, in addition to state and federal government funding.
Clr Kemmis described The Common Ground project as a “fabulous service”, and said it was the best solution for Sydney’s housing crisis.
“It has social support and that’s really what’s important. It provides that social infrastructure that you need to tackle the problem,” Clr Kemmis told City Hub.
“People often when they’re placed in temporary accommodation, they’re on their own and they feel isolated and I think that’s probably why numbers of people go back to sleeping rough,” Clr Kemmis said.
But Clr Foster said the council needed to consider the costs associated with the homeless population.
“In an ideal world, we would have the projects all over the shop, but it’s an issue of who’s going to provide the money.
Now, I would argue that council has enough money to build its own Common Ground. Why wait for Federal or State funding?”
Felicity Reynolds of Mercy Foundation, an NGO tackling poverty, said she supported both an outreach program like homeless intervention at the station and affordable housing.
“I think the City of Sydney are right in doing what they do to support outreach efforts in the city as well as perhaps look at projects that are going to create more affordable housing in the city as well,” she said.
A February street count saw a 5.5 per cent increase from last year in those sleeping rough in the city, according to Clr Kemmis, with Haymarket being the most disadvantaged.
However, over 30 people have already been supported to exit Belmore Park with the assistance of agencies and City of Sydney’s homelessness unit, according to council documents.
The Lord Mayor will consult with NSW Minister for Family and Community Services Brad Hazzard to pursue funding for the Common Ground project.