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We won't use new regulations to outlaw rough sleepers: city council

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UPDATED: The Adelaide City Council says it will not outlaw rough sleepers in the CBD after Anglicare raised concerns that changes to its by-laws that could be used to move homeless people on.

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The council on Tuesday night endorsed a change to three of its by-laws, which would make it illegal to “obstruct any cubicle, walkway or public area”.

The phrase would be added to council regulations concerning local government land, Rundle Mall and roads.

Documents presented to the council meeting say the change is needed because, increasingly, people have been using public toilets to “take refuge” for extended periods and preventing others from using the facilities.

“This proposed amendment is a direct result of complaints from the public including people with disabilities being denied access to the conveniences,” the document says.

However, the broad reference to any “public area” in the text of the regulations worried Peter Sandeman, CEO of Anglicare SA.

He urged the council against using the change to move on rough sleepers in the CBD.

He said the council needed “to make sure that its application doesn’t render homeless people even more vulnerable than they are now”.

“We know from experience, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, and internationally, that simply attempting to move rough sleepers on can result in confrontation and harms,” he said.

“It’s important in doing this that we build trust … with homeless people.”

But a spokesperson for the city council said changes to the regulations – which are open for consultation until August 28 – would only apply to the misuse of public toilets, and were not intended to apply to rough sleepers in public space.

The changes “are not representative of Council seeking to take a different approach towards rough sleepers,” the spokesperson said. 

“The proposed revisions referred to are designed to clarify the application of existing powers in relation to toilet blocks following feedback we have received from the community, particularly those with accessibility needs.”

The council’s Local Government Land by-law already says no person shall “obstruct any path, footpath, track, gateway or other area” without permission.

Sandeman is also the co-chair of the Adelaide Zero Project, run by the Don Dunstan Foundation.

The project, to which the Adelaide City Council contributed $150,000, aims to achieve “functional zero” homelessness in Adelaide within two years.

The Adelaide Zero Project brings together 35 organisations to identify all of Adelaide’s rough sleepers by name and wrap services around them, to help get them sustainably into housing.

“The Adelaide Zero project is so exciting, because we’ve got everybody in the room,” he said.

“It’s much better to have a comprehensive plan.”

He commended Lord Mayor Martin Haese and the council for being “right behind” the project.

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