AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND SAFE SLEEP CONCERNS
Affordable housing and sleeping out in Canberra are two hot topics, in my experience, which receive a regular work out in barbeque conversations over the summer holidays.
My own state of Canberra (Australian Capital Territory) has a significant increase in the number of rough sleepers. In the Canberra Central Business District there are now three tents sited in the park of Vernon Circle clearly visible to motorists and pedestrians. There are no lavatories in this park. The tents have been there since October 2018. By the Australia Day Weekend (26 January), the tents had disappeared.
On the verge of Lake Burley Griffin in Acton there were two tents under the silver birches near the ANU. In the January heatwave, one of the tents has left the area. This area has magnificent views of Parliament and the National Library and is prime real estate. It is located near the marina where the public toilet block is open for public use. However, at night this area is not lit. On the Australia Day Weekend, one of the tents had disappeared.
On Canberra Avenue, behind the Canberra Institute of Technology, Fyshwick Campus, there is a hide. This tent is near the Fyshwick interchange. There are no lavatories in this area. This hide has been there since August 2018 and on the Australia Day Weekend it was still there. The land has a creek bed which is a traditional breeding ground for snakes in high summer.
Seeing these six tents in the community makes me want to just go home and shut the door. But buying a house has become almost unaffordable for some people. The local, State and National newspapers carry stories this month about the ‘rental crisis’ and unaffordable rents. Canberra is listed as the most unaffordable place to rent in Australia.
How can Canberrans be the most affluent, educated and solvent of all Australians and yet have people sleeping rough nearby? Why don’t they do something about this lack of public health and housing? Why not try to improve the lives of people sleeping rough? I cannot fathom what he local government does not ‘get’ about these health and safety matters in our local environment.
Young people are increasingly finding it difficult to locate suitable accommodation for their studies. For example, there is a significant shortage of rental accommodation for university students and international visitors seeking to work in Canberra on a temporary basis (six – 12 months).
Those with homes in their name or as home owners are facing increasing utility bills (rates, water, sewerage, electricity, body corporate fees, property taxes, and house and contents insurances). Some sleep overnight in shopping malls with all their belongings.
As the 2018 figures for housing document outlines, “over half of the female home owners who leave their home due to domestic violence become homeless in 12 months.”
Those who leave their home and become homeless because affordable housing in not realistic for them are then on a slippery slope: an increase in personal health issues and security concerns. Yet, they appear to be surrounded by a large community which does not actively show that they care about the homeless.
Would you think this a deplorable situation where people seem to show no respect for their own environment and clearly a lack of empathy for others in need?
I cannot fathom it …
Why are we writing about this environmental health matters?
In The Canberra Times newspaper on 20 January 2019 is an article on page 46 entitled ‘ How cities can get smart’. The article written by Associate Professor Tan Chee Pin of Monash University in Malaysia talks about what is a smart city.
To quote the Professor, “A smart city uses technology to capture data than can improve a community’s safety, health and convenience. With better information, a city becomes more liveable and more efficient while reducing its impact on the environment…This information can be used to help people be aware of things, such as their water or energy consumption, and make decisions on how to reduce their usage…The next stage is to be responsive. Using the information gathered, automated schemes could better manage many aspects of running a city…one thing is sure – it will bring many benefits to the local community.”
Land consumption and use of public parks is an issue for many Canberrans as the push to infill the Canberra city with apartment dwellings continues. Potential investors and owner occupiers are being asked to consider living in the centre of the city. To do this, we each need to know that the public parks we might try to enjoy – as we take time out from our apartment living – will be safe, clean and family-friendly.
With density in the city comes higher pedestrian and cycle traffic as well as an increase in motor vehicles and urban pollution. The city parks are used more often and need more constant monitoring including removal of pollution and basic pest control. The use of public parks by the homeless is an unfortunate side-effect of high rents and lack of community housing in Canberra. However, it is a government responsibility to ensure that government-funded parks are patrolled and kept clean.
The land used for Vernon Circle in Canberra City (Civic), and the lakeside area of Lake Burley Griffin is not private land. There are rules about the use of parkland in Canberra and overnight stays. There are several caravan parks and tent sites in Canberra run as commercial business and this includes some long-stay accommodation.
It would be helpful to the community if the local government in Canberra acted on this information and investigated the tent dwellers near Lake Burley Griffin at Acton, on Vernon Circle in Civic, and along Commonwealth Avenue near Fyshwick.
Rangers and local police are appropriate personnel to undertake such a task. They might find the homeless dwellers are keen to move to a tent site or caravan park with access to clean running water, toilets and other civilised amenities. The government officials could atleast check and ask the homeless if they’d be more comfortable at a location with basic household amenities. At dinner time would they prefer access to a purpose-built kitchen rather than make tea in a billy by campfire? Would they like someone sympathetic yet authoritative to talk to? It seems a cruel act for the government to not respond in a heatwave.
Text copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2019 and 20 January 2019 text of Associate Professor Tan Chee Pin.
Copyright of image of ‘Canberra Vital Signs 2018’: Hands Across Australia and The Snow Foundation.
Other images, copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2018 and 2019.
Uploaded 12 January 2019.
Updated text and images 28 January 2019.