Decision Maker Response

Clover Moore’s response

Mar 31, 2015 — Dear Petitioner

I refer to your petition about rough sleepers using tents in Wentworth and Belmore Parks.

Homelessness is a complex issue and requires a comprehensive and compassionate response. We’ve been taking action to address homelessness in the inner city for more than 30 years.

City staff visit Wentworth Park regularly and try to connect rough sleepers with support services. No one should have to live in a tent, and the City has been working with the NSW Government, who is responsible for housing, to secure housing for rough sleepers.

I recently met with the Minister, The Hon. Gabrielle Upton MP, to discuss what action the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) is taking to secure both temporary and long-term housing options for the rough sleepers in these parks. The Minister has assured me FACS is doing all it can to secure immediate accommodation for the rough sleepers in Wentworth and Belmore Parks, and is also working with stakeholders across the state to reform the social housing system to ensure rough sleepers can access long-term housing.

The City works hard to ensure public space can be used and enjoyed safely by everyone, including people experiencing homelessness. We encourage responsible behaviour by everyone in our public spaces while ensuring vulnerable people aren’t discriminated against and are treated with compassion and respect.

Along with Housing NSW, the City supports Way2Home, an outreach service that has helped more than 220 rough sleepers to find permanent housing since 2010. You can read more about the City’s approach to homelessness on our website at bit.ly/1sjtupM.

Wentworth Park

For the past six months we’ve been working with the group sleeping rough in Wentworth Park to connect them with appropriate services and help them find accommodation. City staff have:

• made 97 referrals to support providers
• sent 12 letters to Housing NSW in support of applications for housing for individuals and/or couples
• provided four reports to the Department of Family and Community Services – Child Protection Services about children sleeping rough or pregnancies
• helped five rough sleepers to access employment opportunities including providing references and/or contact details for employers
• assisted with housing seven rough sleepers and two more were offered housing, which they declined
• offered four New Zealanders, who aren’t eligible for services in Australia, help to return home, which they declined.

Last year we received reports of deliberately lit fires and unauthorised camping. Camping isn’t allowed at Wentworth Park and there are several signs saying it’s prohibited.

In the last few months, rough sleepers in Wentworth Park accumulated furniture and other large items, as well as tents. City staff have received reports of people cooking on open gas flames inside their tents. This is very dangerous and I’m concerned it’s putting rough sleepers in the park at risk. There are also health risks because of vermin attracted to food being stored in tents.

The City organised a meeting in January to hear from rough sleepers how we could work together to manage these issues. Rough sleepers asked for access to toilets and showers; appropriate bins to reduce rubbish build-up; access to relevant services; pest control; and clear and consistent guidelines for sharing the park with residents.

In response to these requests, the park’s toilets and showers are now open 12 hours a day on a trial basis; the City’s Parks team is taking action to rid the park of vermin; and larger bins will be installed. We also agreed with most of the rough sleepers a timeline for the removal of tents. City staff have visited the park regularly to communicate each stage of this process.

On 5 February, the City hosted an integrated service hub of 11 services for rough sleepers at Ultimo Community Centre.

On 11 February the City, police and support services helped rough sleepers remove tents, structures and furniture items. Items that were collected by the City were held for 30 days, at no cost.

Belmore Park

Rough sleeping in Belmore Park has been an increasing concern for the City. The City’s Homelessness Unit is currently visiting the park on average four times a week. There are a number of people in the park with serious health concerns and St Vincent’s Homeless Health is regularly visiting these people in partnership with City Staff.

We are working with health services, outreach services, Housing NSW and Police to meet with and support the rough sleepers there. We’re hoping to agree on an action plan that meets the needs of each person sleeping rough at the park and helps them exit homelessness.

A series if outreach mornings with homelessness and health services were held on 21 January and 17 March. At the January event, 30 homeless people engaged with services.

The park is a major thoroughfare for people moving to and from Central Station and we are working with Police and other service providers to determine how best to make the area clean, healthy and safe for everyone.

Yours sincerely

Clover Moore
Lord Mayor of Sydney