A member of the Queensland City Council wants to bring back a decades-old law that makes homelessness illegal.
Gold Coast City Council member Brooke Patterson wants the vagrancy law, which was repealed by the Queensland government in 2004, brought back to help deal with violent and anti-social behavior exacerbated by some of the city’s homeless.
She says that while it “sounds harsh,” it will ultimately help vulnerable people who the state government “simply refuses” to provide housing for.
She said she met with her local state representative for homeless housing earlier this week in the presence of local health, police and community representatives.
“This is a group of aggressive, sometimes violent, anti-social people who sleep poorly, have severe addictions to drugs and alcohol, and often have mental health issues,” Patterson told NCA NewsWire.
“The reason they are not being hosted is because the state government is unwilling to dedicate more than 10 percent of its current crisis accommodation budget to repair damage to the motels that the state government leases and houses people in – I can appreciate that.
“(But) washing its hands of it, the state government is leaving this matter up to residents, students and business owners.
“If the state government thinks that this group is too aggressive and anti-social to deal with in terms of housing, they need to come up with some other way to solve problems, and not leave it up to residents and business owners. “
Earlier this year, the state announced a $237 million housing policy, but Patterson called it a “white elephant.”
“The government… is currently decriminalizing some of the shocking activities that we have to face on the streets of people they refuse to house, such as public defecation, offering drugs to students, etc,” she said.
The Vagrancy Act was introduced in 1931 and stated that any homeless person with no “visible legal means of livelihood” could be fined $100.
Those who are unable to pay can be sentenced to six months in prison.
The term “tramp” was also applied to anyone who asked for money or offered divination for money.
The vagrancy law was repealed by Queensland in 2004, but Patterson said with the number of homeless people dying on the streets today, it’s time to bring the laws back.
According to her, in this case, the homeless could be placed in a prison cell, which would give them proper treatment and shelter.
A parliamentary report released to repeal the laws said the homeless were among the most criminalized of all Australians and were mostly charged and imprisoned for petty offences.
“Many of the grounds for ‘vagrancy’ are outdated and considered somewhat idiosyncratic in today’s society,” the report says.
“The vagrancy provisions have been the subject of ridicule and criticism.”
More than 21,000 Queenslanders are estimated to have been left homeless as the crisis worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Queensland Attorney General Shannon Fentiman said it was “absolutely appalling” to suggest that vagrancy laws are the solution to the housing problem.
“These laws have resulted in our most vulnerable people being imprisoned or left with large debts that they could never repay,” she said.
Originally published as Gold Coast City Council member proposes bringing back vagrancy laws to help with the homeless