Saturday, April 16, 2011

Homeless protest plans to sweep them off the street for CHOGM

Twenty five people joined a demonstration organised by homeless people to protest plans by the state government to remove homeless people from the city at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in October.

The protest was in response to a parliamentary debate on April 7 about the proposed new police powers for CHOGM. It was revealed that homeless people would be directed away from CHOGM security areas in Perth city.

Particularly insensitive was the comment in parliament by police minister Rob Johnson in response to a question about what arrangements would be made for displaced people. After describing the question as ``stupid'' he said he would provide homeless people with a ``tent and a cushion''.

Protesters were particularly aggrieved that the government wanted to keep them out of sight during the CHOGM summit without actually doing anything to create long term solutions to homelessness.

In keeping with the ``out of sight, out of mind'' attitude, billionaire Andrew Forrest has entered the debate, supporting token charity measures and calling for homeless people to be accommodated during the summit but without pushing for any long term solutions.

``Appalling'', ``disgraceful'', ``heartless''. These are some of the words used by homeless participants in the rally to describe the government's approach.

``We may be homeless, but we are not stupid,'' was a common sentiment from rally participants who spoke to Green Left.

Ken, one of the rally organisers, told Green Left ``we're here to protest the government's views on the homeless people''.

``When CHOGM comes in October, they want to take a few street people off the streets and put them in accommodation for seven days, and then after the thing is finished they want to throw them back on the street.''

``We cop enough flak from the government and the public as it is without the government putting it on TV and in the newspapers that we're not even worthy to be seen by dignatories [coming to CHOGM].''

``If the government can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to redevelop the waterfront and then yesterday they announced they are going to spend $9 million dollars to upgrade the facility at Kings Park for the CHOGM meeting but they can't afford any money to open up a 24 hour hostel or to organise some permanent accommodation, we just think that is totally unfair.''

[This article was written by Alex Bainbridge for Green Left Weekly. Bainbridge is a member of the CHOGM Action Network which is organising a mass protest on the first day of the CHOGM summit.]