FREMANTLE council’s latest strategy to tackle anti-social behaviour will stigmatise homeless people warns an advocate.
Conrad Liveris, co-founder of Street Smugglers, says lumping homeless people who beg into a strategy targeting anti-social behaviour threatens to paint them as criminals.
The council’s community safety and crime prevention plan identifies public drinking, loud and intimidating behaviour, and opportunistic and aggressive begging as key problems.
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt is on record claiming police research had identified many beggars in the city aren’t homeless.
But when the Herald checked the research, it didn’t back up Dr Pettitt’s claim.
According to council staffer Matthew Piggott, the research actually shows that people misbehaving in the city, “are not homeless and are known to the police”. It doesn’t say anything about begging.
Dr Pettitt admits begging itself isn’t anti-social, but defends the policy because retailers have repeatedly expressed concerns that begging, public drinking, yelling, and fighting are becoming “normalised”.
The council will install charity boxes on streets and erect signs warning people there will be zero tolerance for anti-social behaviour.
“Having secure collection points means people who donate can be comfortable knowing the funds will genuinely help the people who need it most… and will go a long way to eliminate this type of opportunistic and at times aggressive style of begging,” Dr Pettitt says.
Councillor Sam Wainwright agrees with Mr Liveris and thinks the policy is flawed. Both want begging to be tackled through government policies dealing with housing affordability, mental illness, drug addiction and domestic violence.
Cr Wainwright notes his council has reduced its funding for these areas by up to $500,000 a year since 2010.
“While the City of Fremantle is not in a position to substitute for the federal and state governments in the areas I’ve mentioned above, it’s a fact that the city now does less to support people facing homelessness as a result of relinquishing both the the youth crisis accomodation service (2010) and Warrawee women’s refuge (2015), both steps that I opposed,” he says.
Cr Wainwright says the council’s zero-tolerance approach is unnecessary because police can already enforce laws that rule out menacing behaviour.
“I’m all in favour of the police and city rangers intervening to stop intimidating, abusive or threatening behaviour, but that is regardless of whether or not the perpetrators are engaged in begging.”
Cr Wainwright says in many cases, similar policies have led to racial profiling.
Mr Liveris also criticises the council for turning to police first.
“When you start dealing with anti-social behaviour, community development services should be the first port of call,” he says.
“The police often don’t understand the underlying or long-term issues: they’re very important for dealing with actual crimes, but they’re not going to be much help dealing with long-term issues like homelessness.
“All they can do is move these people on.”
Mr Liveris says Freo’s CBD is the best place to bring homeless people together because it makes access to support services easier.
“If they’re moved on to outer suburbs, it’s harder to help them.”
The plan commits the council to working with government and welfare agencies, as well as improving security and lighting in suburban areas.
by JESSICA COCKERILL