Saturday, February 9, 2013

Homelessness and the law

Everyone knows that the homeless are doing it tough. But perhaps not everybody thinks about how they are doing it tough. I thought I’d write today about something that I have only recently learned myself, and that had my mind boggling. It has to do with laws and rights, with being homeless, and with getting fines because of being homeless.

Talking to homeless people, I heard stories about them raking up fine after fine for things I could not even imagine. I found that quite horrific, and I went to research these things a bit. I must say I found it hard to believe what I heard people say about why they got fines. I guess I did not really want to believe how heartless or callous society or the legal system is in some areas, but at the same time I knew it must be true. Then doing some reading and finding out for real, in black and white, that the people I spoke to had it right was quite painful. Homeless people by law (yes, how else) can be fined for vagrancy, loitering, begging, sleeping in public spaces or camping. As the University of New South Wales stated, “the law has typically added to the disadvantage of people experiencing homelessness” .

As a matter of fairness, I should add that there are also laws that can be used to the advantage of homeless people and that have been mentioned in the same article, such as anti-discrimination laws (Equality Rights), renting, boarding house and accommodation regulations (Accommodation Rights), and social security laws (Standard of Living Rights).

However, because of the position they’re in and because of the way they are often treated by others, many homeless people do not have the sense of self-worth and trust in their fellow man to make the law work for them. They often do not know that there are actually laws they can call upon, and finding legal advice often is a daunting process for them. Therefore, as great as those legal rights of Equality, Accommodation and Standard of Living are, and however applicable to homeless people, they will not often feel they are in a position to make use of them or to get legal help, or they are not familiar with their legal rights.

I hear that Big Issue vendors get spat in the face about once a week on average. Add that to the low income they earn by standing outside for hours on end trying to sell their magazines to hurried passers-by (which I experienced myself a few months ago), and you can grasp where those feelings of low self-worth and lack of trust come from. They often do not feel that they will be believed, listened to or taken seriously if they would make an official complaint even if their issue is something that really should be addressed.

Homeless people often get fines for the above-mentioned things, such as vagrancy, loitering, begging and sleeping in public spaces, but where else but in public spaces can you sleep when you are homeless and the shelters are overloaded already? And when you don’t have a home or a job to go to, how can you not loiter? For many homeless people the fines and enforcement fees pile up. They can amount to thousands of dollars and increase the longer they remain unpaid, and there is no way they can pay them. For non-payment of fines, people’s drivers licences get suspended, which in many cases makes it harder to find work and get on their feet. How can society help more? Just a question…  

For anyone interested in the issue, please click on this link:  It is published by the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service and dates from 2006 (so not the newest and perhaps also not the latest) and is based on New South Wales.

For anyone interested in legal help for homeless people, here is the link for the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service: . They are an excellent law organization specialized in helping homeless people or people at risk of homelessness. I am proud to say this organization will have representatives at our BBQ of 17 February.


Just a little something about the guy I wrote about, who was finding his way back up again after a setback. He is still going strong, still sells the Big Issue, and is hoping to make the day very special when his little boy turns a year older later this month, not too far away from his own birthday. The last time I spoke to him, a couple of days ago, he was in good spirits, and really looking forward to the birthdays. I hope they will be very special days for him and his little boy…


On a different note: last time I tried to encourage you to vote for Grant to become the Volunteer of the Year 2012 with Heritage Bank. It does not look like Grant is going to win, so could I please ask you to vote for the wonderful KAREN CROKE? She founded and heads Knitting for Brisbane’s Needy, a terrific group of dedicated people who help the same people we help by knitting all things knittable and donating them at our BBQ, at many other events and in many other ways. If Grant is not going to win, Karen has our wholehearted votes. Yours too? Karen is currently in second place. With your votes SHE CAN WIN THIS!!!Here is the link: 

Have a great day and be safe. Talk to you next time!

Written by Bernie the Polite Girl from The Polite Team 

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