The threatened and likely impending eviction of homeless people from the Adelaide Parklands is but the latest chapter in a sad and sorry saga.
Evictions such as this, which have been carried out over many years in a seemingly never ending cycle, are both cruel and ineffective. Cruel as the pitifully few possessions are confiscated by reluctant authorities, acceding to the urges of those wishing to enjoy the parklands in peace and ineffective as the rough sleepers move elsewhere briefly, only to return as the cycle continues.
The conjunction of those who reside near to the parklands is the cause of constant tension and consequent pressure on the State Government and Council to “do something”. The fear of local residents is recognised and acknowledged. While the rough sleepers are few in number, they can be loud and disruptive.
However, this is a complex situation and demands for simplistic NIMBY solutions to move these homeless people elsewhere do not tackle the real issues. Some of the rough sleepers are ill, some are vulnerable, some are resistant to being housed and all are deeply suspicious of services seeking to help. While apparently meeting the demands for action, evictions have only a short term effect and simply reinforce the alienation and resistance of rough sleepers to accepting help and moving to alternate accommodation.
Those tasked with the evictions are understandably reluctant to appear heavy handed or racist as the majority of rough sleepers are Aboriginal. Eviction resonates uncomfortably with the concurrent threats to remote Aboriginal communities and the continuing impacts of colonisation.
Part of our discomfort comes from the strong sense of the fair go, of sharing our resources to give a hand up to the outcasts in our midst, and a lingering awareness of the social justice teachings of Jesus. We all want to be fair and just and in a city of the size, wealth and sophistication of Adelaide, we can do better than repeat the mistakes of the past.
However, reaching rough sleepers is incredibly difficult. There is no easy solution and we all need to play our part. We need to work together in partnership between State and Local Government and the community agencies, to manage the situation safely and well rather than sending it somewhere else. Together we need to develop and deliver strategies to remove the conflict and help rough sleepers take back control and rebuild their lives.
What is required are longer term and more intensive and integrated efforts that include a safe designated location for the rough sleepers well away from local residents, assertive and integrated case management and access to long term housing with support to minimise drinking and substance abuse.
Programs such as Ian George Court and the Hutt St Centre show that it is possible. The lives of people from the streets and parklands can be turned around with intensive support, loving care, persistence and trust.
Their lives won’t be turned around with the forceful removal from the place they call home.