Australia Darwin Mayor proposes relocating rough sleepers to suburbs, but what do the homeless think?

12:10  11 january  2018
12:10  11 january  2018 Source:   ABC News

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Jack became homeless because of "a few things", among them trouble with a child support agency.

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"It just sort of stemmed from there, I suppose," Jack, who uses a nickname because he comes from a small town, said.

Jack spends most nights sleeping in so-called bush camps around Darwin. © Provided by ABC News Jack spends most nights sleeping in so-called bush camps around Darwin.

He is on a priority wait list for government-subsidised housing.

His other concern is finding steady work, and he spent most of Tuesday afternoon this week at a job centre.

"I have picked up a few jobs since I've been homeless, but it's a bit hard sort of trying to go to work and getting up and putting boots on when you're homeless," he told ABC Radio Darwin's Conor Byrne.

Until a stable roof and income are found, he will spend most nights in a bush camp — a tarpaulin laid in temporary sleeping spots in Darwin's inner suburbs — close to the agencies and services he relies on.

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For this reason, he disagrees with the Darwin Lord Mayor's proposal to establish a homeless services hub in Berrimah, a largely industrial suburb halfway between Darwin and Palmerston.

"Everybody wants something to be done and many people complain about the Darwin City Council doing nothing; others complain about the NT Government's lack of action," Mayor Kon Vatskalis wrote in a Facebook post.

"So I want to propose a solution that can provide safety, a place to stay at night and medical assistance to these people."

The proposal, which Mr Vatskalis said he intended to put to the Government, would also involve the linking up and relocation of existing homelessness services.

Many of these are currently deployed in the city centre, where many anti-social incidents have been known to occur.

Recently the Government established three services amounting to 92 beds in Berrimah.

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But Jack said Darwin's rough sleepers, many of whom can't regularly afford public transport, relied on the city for its central location.

Business owners are frustrated with the high instance of rough sleeping hotspots in the CBD. © ABC News Business owners are frustrated with the high instance of rough sleeping hotspots in the CBD.

His years on the street have taught him that there is safety to be found in highly visible, familiar locations.

"In some circumstances, it's safer on the street.

"If you're in a group you can sit somewhere and be pretty safe.

"But when they send you off to places like this, you're on your own and you're more vulnerable."

Business owners 'fed up'

The Lord Mayor's Facebook post comes on the back of ongoing disturbances reported by business owners in the city.

Public urination, loitering and fighting in the street are some examples cited by NT Chamber of Commerce members.

"They're expressing a strong frustration that the itinerant behaviour seems to be a lot stronger than it has been in a long time," the chamber's acting chief executive Brian O'Gallagher said.

Brian O'Gallagher says a recent Chamber of Commerce survey showed members wanted urgent action. © ABC News Brian O'Gallagher says a recent Chamber of Commerce survey showed members wanted urgent action.

Mr O'Gallagher said he had been consulting with a business which takes buckets of disinfectant to its shopfront each morning.

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"It is detracting from local people coming to shop and it's certainly a deterrent to tourists," he said.

Mr O'Gallagher said he was broadly supportive of the Lord Mayor's proposal and was optimistic that it could function as a short-term fix to a long-standing issue.

"At the same time we need to go to the root causes of what's causing it, so is it homelessness? Is it people moving through country they're not familiar with? Let's get to the root causes and solve it.

"But we need both."

Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro, whose seat of Spillett covers Berrimah, said the proposal would be simply shifting the issue from one location to another.

"More than that, there is already a shelter in Berrimah operated by the Salvation Army," she said in a statement.

New measures showing early signs of success

Amid mounting pressure to tackle anti-social behaviour in the city, the Government unveiled a new suite of measures in September.

Part of the strategy was the establishment of residential and rehabilitation services in Berrimah, including the relocation of a sobering-up shelter previously in the inner suburb of Coconut Grove.

Another part was the reintroduction of day patrols returning rough sleepers to homes and accommodation services in Darwin and beyond.

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The service, run by Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation, is showing early signs of success, moving more than 600 people in its inaugural month of December.

Most of these people were in the CBD.

The corporation's chief executive, Robert Cooper, said he was wary of how their needs would be met in Berrimah, even if the suburb offered more beds.

"From my perspective it's a social equity issue. It's not about moving the provision of services from one spot to the other because all that does is move the problem," he said.

"What [Larrakia Nation is] about is taking a longer-term view to these issues and identifying why people are in the places they are and why they have what are often a complex number of issues."

Without examining the underlying issues, Mr Cooper said, relocating people would only solve the problem for the people who wanted to see them moved.

"If you're moving people from one place to another, you need to understand why they were there in the first place, and will they actually want to be in the second place, and will they want to stay there," he said.

"You can't move them by force. You need to make them want to go there."

Robert Cooper says his organisation is committed to examining the underlying causes of homelessness. © ABC News Robert Cooper says his organisation is committed to examining the underlying causes of homelessness.

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