Sat, Aug 12, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Tent city for homeless in Sydney packs up

AFP, SYDNEY

A homeless tent city in the heart of Sydney was being dismantled yesterday after political wrangling over who was responsible for the plight of those sleeping rough in winter sparked the introduction of new laws.

More than 50 people had been camping in colorful tents erected amid the high-end office buildings and glitzy stores of Martin Place, just meters from Australia’s central bank and the New South Wales (NSW) state parliament.

The camp became the most visible symbol of the lack of low-cost accommodation in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, which is ranked second on a list of the world’s least affordable housing.

The City of Sydney Council and the NSW government have blamed each other for failing to take responsibility for the camp, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian eventually pushing through a new law on Wednesday allowing police to remove the tent dwellers.

The law came into effect yesterday and Lanz Priestley, who has been dubbed the tent city’s mayor, told reporters that the camp was being peacefully dismantled after residents were asked by police to pack up.

Berejiklian said the new legislation could not be used to break up other protests in the city, adding that it was specifically targeted at “unauthorized activity” such as the makeshift campsite.

“What is happening in Martin Place is beyond protest, because it’s unauthorized activity which is compromising the public safety of those most vulnerable, but also the safety of the community,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week.

The group of dwellers have camped out in Martin Place since the end of last year beside a building site, but more recently pitched the tents after the area was closed for construction.

State officials said they have visited the site 47 times since March, placing about 230 people sleeping rough in Martin Place in temporary accommodation.

Volunteer Belinda Percy, who has been helping out in a makeshift kitchen beside the camp that offers free food and hot drinks, said the residents would continue to get help.

“Everyone will be supported. Nobody’s going to left on their own. For the people who haven’t secured housing at this point of time, we will be looking after them,” Percy said.

Social advocates say that Sydney’s high prices are placing more pressure on those struggling to afford a roof over their heads.

More than 100,000 people across Australia were reported homeless in the 2011 national census, with welfare groups expecting the most recent survey last year to show an increase.

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