Homelessness and rough sleeping

Why are people homeless?

As in many cities around the world, homelessness across Melbourne is growing. In 2016 the City of Melbourne’s StreetCount found an increase of 74% in rough sleeping over two years.

The main reasons people become homeless are: 

  • lack of affordable housing
  • domestic violence
  • poverty
  • disability, mental health, alcohol and other drug issues.

Rough sleeping, where people are sleeping in public spaces, in cars, and squatting in vacant properties, is the most visible form of homelessness.

Many people have short and one-off experiences of homelessness, but for some it stretches into years and it may take a range of supports to get them housed. Every person's story is unique.

What do we do about homelessness?

There are limited ways for Local Government to help the homeless; however our officers play an important role in our partnership with the homelessness outreach team at Launch Housing in Fitzroy. In line with our How to Respond to Rough Sleeping and Squatting in Yarra protocol, we alert the team at Launch Housing to someone sleeping rough in Yarra and skilled team members visit the site to work with people on their housing and other needs.

Launch Housing advises council on the status of people they engage with, so that we understand who is sleeping rough in Yarra and why.

We do our best to be respectful and helpful to everyone in our community, including people experiencing homelessness, while keeping the municipality safe, clean and tidy. Our Help Locally flyer lists local services for anyone who is homeless or without secure housing.

What can I do if I see someone who looks homeless?

It is not against the law to be homeless, and all Victorians have a right to be in public places. Yarra’s approach recognises the principles of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities in treating all people with respect and dignity. However as people experiencing homelessness may have a history of trauma leading to behaviour that can seem antisocial, our officers are advised not to approach homeless people unless:

  • they ask for help
  • they seem distressed
  • you think there is a danger to them or to others
  • there is a child under 18 with them
  • their behaviour may damage property or the environment.

For all safety issues call Victoria Police on 000.

For medical emergencies call Ambulance on 000.

For any other concerns and to help someone who is sleeping rough, call Yarra City Council on 9205 5555 or Launch Housing outreach team on 03 9288 9800. 

What about begging?

We recognise that begging is confronting for many people. People beg for a range of reasons. A recent survey of people begging in Melbourne shows:

  • 77% were experiencing homelessness
  • 87% had a mental illness
  • 77% were experiencing drug or alcohol dependence
  • 80% had been unemployed for a year or more
  • 33% had experienced family violence
  • 37% reported childhood abuse or trauma.

Begging is illegal under the Summary Offences Act and enforcement is the responsibility of the police. If a person who is begging is acting aggressively - for example, is intoxicated, intimidating, violent or placing people at risk - you can report the matter to the police by phoning 000.

What if I have more questions?

If you want to know more about homelessness generally, Council to Homeless Persons has information on their website. For a personal perspective, CHP’s Peer Education and Support Program members have been homeless and are available to talk to your group or organisation about their experiences.