A social justice advocate has branded the eviction of campers from a park in Bendigo a potential attack on human rights.
- Bendigo council’s director says social housing is not their responsibility
- On Friday, the Victorian government changed the status of the park at council’s request so camping is not allowed
- But a social justice lawyer says the council could be in breach of human rights if it evicts campers
The head of environment and communities at the City of Greater Bendigo (CoGB) says residents will be made to move out of the Huntly Lions Park in less than two weeks.
Police and the council went to the park on Monday to deliver the message to residents that they had 14 days to pack up and leave.
But one of those residents, Lee-Anne Gray, said she had nowhere to go and could not afford a private rental in a saturated market that also had no social housing available.
Eviction notices a potential human rights breach
CoGB director Stacy Williamson told ABC Central Victoria that enforcement orders would be issued to residents who did not move on and that it wanted campers to work with housing support organization Haven; Home, Safe.
“The City’s role is not to find or provide housing for people in this situation,” she said.
“We certainly want enforcement to be the last form of action that we take. Our preference is that campers engage with those housing support services and find suitable accommodation.”
But the new CEO of ARC Justice, Damian Stock, told ABC Central Victoria that removing the residents from their only housing is a human rights issue.
“We’ve heard Stacy and the language of grace periods. And let’s be very clear, these are eviction notices, they’re removing people from the only option that’s available to them,” Mr Stock said.
“If the council is not complying with the Charter of Human Rights, it’s potentially unlawful for them to take further action.”
Social justice advocates could seek court injunction
ARC Justice is working with the campers and is seeking legal advice on what options are available, including seeking an injunction on the orders.
“There’s a wealth of power here. Just because the city council has the bare power to remove people, it’s a public authority and it must also consider the impact of its decisions on the human rights of the people that we’re speaking about,” Mr Stock said.
“These are real people. They’re mums and parents of workers.”
The Victorian government introduced the Charter for Human Rights in 2006.
The charter states public authorities who have the bare legal right to make decisions must ensure that those decisions are proportionate when they impact people’s human rights.
“If the council is going to take action that removes them from what is currently their homes, they need to make sure it is a proportional step, and that they have assessed the impact of that step on the actual circumstances of these people, including what are the outcomes, what’s going to happen to these people if the council does take these steps,” Mr Stock said.
Residents have told the ABC that they had not been able to get housing through Haven; Home, Safe and that camping at the park was their only option.
But despite this, Ms Williamson said campers needed to look at designated campgrounds or access other forms of accommodation.
Around six people are living at the Huntly Lions Park.
City ‘washes hands’ of campers’ housing plight
Last Friday, the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning changed the status of the reserve at the council’s request so people could no longer camp at the site.
Ms Williamson said the Huntly Lions Park was set up to only be a short-stay “novelty” place for people to stay.
“Over the years, the city has received various complaints around safety and amenity of the site,” Ms Williamson said.
Ms Williamson said the council could identify suitable areas for affordable housing in line with its action plan and that social housing was part of its inclusivity strategy.
But she said local government did not build or manage social or affordable housing and it did not have a role in placing people into housing.
Mr Stock is the former CEO of the Inner Melbourne Community Legal Center and specializes in administrative law and housing rights.
“The washing of the hands here by the Bendigo city council, essentially saying ‘housing is not their responsibility’, is really not good enough,” he said.