Homeless Man
Homeless Veteran on the streets of Boston, MA Wikimedia Commons/Matthew Woitunski

“Disgusting” and “very ugly sight” are the words used by Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton to describe the homeless encampments outside Flinders Street Station. He said rough sleepers are pretending to be homeless to shake down money from people coming to Melbourne for the Australian Open.

The Victoria police chief said the authorities will start to target people begging in Melbourne starting Thursday. “These people are not homeless, these are people that are choosing to camp ... because people are visiting the city at this time of year and there's more people to shake down for money,” he told the Age.

Ashton has insisted that he is seeing no reason why people should sleep on the street, and that there are no reasons people should be homeless when there is more than enough accommodation and beds for them to utilise. “We've been meeting with the city council about what extra by-laws we can get, because I think it looks disgusting what you see in the city,” he said.

The comments of the Victoria police chief is opposite from that of Victoria Police Superintendent David Clayton, who said it is not illegal to be homeless. “It's not a very good look what's going on there on Flinders Street, but it's not an offence to sit or sleep on the street,” Clayton earlier said.

Even police minister Lisa Neville maintained that homelessness is not a crime. She admitted that the Flinders Street camp was illustrative of Melbourne's “serious homeless problem” but it wasn't illegal to sleep rough.

Neville believes that moving the rough sleepers on Flinders Street to a different location is not the best solution to the issue. She said banning camping in the central business district should be complemented by services linking people with housing and treatment. “It's confronting because there are large numbers of people that congregate there that cause … fear,” she said.