By SELBY STEWART and THOMAS FOSTER
A plan to place free lockers around Melbourne for the city’s homeless has received mixed responses from those on the street and the social services that support them.
Sally Capp, one of the most popular of 14 candidates to replace Robert Doyle as Melbourne’s lord mayor, unveiled the plan this month to avoid the confiscation of homeless people’s property.
However, those sleeping rough in the CBD have raised concerns over the proposal.
James has lived on the street “on and off” throughout his childhood and now sleeps in a trailer parked in his mother’s driveway.
The 27-year-old basketball fan had his most valuable possession stolen while he sold The Big Issue in Melbourne’s CBD.
“They stole my iPad out of my bag while I was trying to get myself on my feet … I had my stuff on the ground because there was nowhere to put it,” he said.
“The first thing people will do if they know you have something valuable is try and grab it – especially if they are on ice or heavily addicted to drugs.”
James said that because of this, the lockers would need to be protected by CCTV and durable.
“If they were open between 9-5 and monitored it would be safer … If someone knows there may be drugs or something valuable in the locker they will just come back at night with a crow bar and bust it open,” he said.
“If it is steel and there are CCTV I would consider it but if it is wood forget it ... also if police have the power to search it at any-time then I don’t think I would trust it.”
Ms Capp announced the lockers policy alongside a homeless job initiative, a commitment to continue funding the Pathways Innovation Package and a goal to build four new Common Ground-type facilities, which provide a combination of quality housing and support services.
A spokesperson for Ms Capp said the exact locations had not been determined, but lockers would be put where they “could be of greatest use and benefit for rough sleepers”.
Bill sleeps in the CBD and has carried his belongings in a blue hiking pack every day for 18 months and said he can’t afford storage facilities any more.
“I can’t afford to pay for lockers at the station … they used to have lockers at the library but they took them out. If I had somewhere to put everything it would be all right but I can’t just leave it in the laneway where I sleep,” Bill said.
“I can’t leave anything anywhere, everything I own is on my back and most of my stuff that I had was stolen so I’ve got nothing any more – I have a couple of blankets and a pillow.”
Bill has watched the council remove people’s property several times and said the lockers could provide stability if they were only used by those in need.
“It would be a great idea only if you can police it in a way that only homeless people get to use it and not everyone else,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have to carry 40 or 50kg on my back every day of the week. My back and hips are already wrecked from sleeping on cardboard boxes and concrete.”
New data released this last month shows that the rate of homelessness in Australia has increased by 4.6 per cent over the last five years, according to 2016 Census of Population and Housing.
The City of Melbourne’s 2016 StreetCount identified 247 people sleeping rough and of those surveyed, 68 per cent had been homeless for more than one year.
Stefan spent nearly 20 years living on the street before finding public housing 18 months ago.
The 38-year-old said that available lockers would have made a big difference when he was on the street.
“I would be selling The Big Issue and would have three or four bags against the wall.”
Stefan said that he often had clothes and blankets stolen.
“They were stolen by people in the same situation.”
The Salvation Army declined to comment on the plan, but said that lockers were one of the services already provided by their Melbourne-based homelessness support initiative Project 614.
National Shelter’s executive officer Adrian Pisarski said while the policy was on the right track it was “ultimately the wrong approach.”
“I think it’s poor policy … it can provide some immediate help to those who need it now but is no substitute to providing housing and support,” he said.
Mr Pisarski also said both the government and councils needed to have strategies that housed rough sleepers more rapidly.
“The more we make it easier for people to 'be' or 'experience' homelessness the easier it becomes to justify this kind of approach and [the policy] fits broadly into the charity model rather than understanding homelessness as a structural injustice,” he said.
“All the recent research points to providing homes and support rather than making it easier to ‘be’ homeless.”