arch-peace editorials

12 December 2017

Editorial - Precarious Shifts in Homelessness Policy

Hard-line civic law changes, damaging to the rights of homeless persons, appear destined for defeat. But compliance officers may yet wield greater powers, and a crackdown on Melbourne’s most vulnerable is still on the cards.

Tsiboho, photographed sleeping rough at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets - 03/12/17.

Homelessness is on the rise in Melbourne. The increased presence on the streets, especially in the inner city, can hardly go unnoticed. Rough sleepers are seen bedding down on footpaths throughout the CBD, an uncomfortable truth that might have been inconceivable 5 or 10 years ago. It's a concern matched by data. In 2015 council’s StreetCount survey observed 83 people sleeping rough, the next year the figure had ballooned out to 247. Of those surveyed in 2016, 68% had been entrenched in homelessness for over a year. Coupled with an acute shortage of supportive housing, and with welfare services already stretched, Melbourne’s dire trend looks set to continue.

The City of Melbourne’s response to the unfolding crisis was unsettling. Apparent pressure from Victoria Police saw the creation of draft local law amendments, gazetted for community comment in February. They contained greater powers for civic law enforcement. The wording expanded the definition of camping: not only would the term include those sleeping in tents or cars; it could also include persons under blankets and sleeping bags, or without any bedding at all. Furthermore, ‘camping’ would not just be reserved for overnight or longer stays, it might mean those stopping for any time; even resting out in the open, during the day. The result of these changes, seemingly subtle, would be anything but. It would give council officers the power to move-on rough sleepers from any public open space. Failure to comply could be met with police arrest.

But the amendments didn't stop there. They also proposed to allow council officers to seize and impound any unattended belongings. Homeless persons were now expected to guard their possessions constantly, or risk having them confiscated. And if that wasn't enough, council also suggested a degrading $338 fee for retrieval. A ludicrous plan, offensive even if it could have been afforded.

Many wondered where these punitive measures had come from. The council that had historically defended the disadvantaged, with sound homelessness policy, was now appearing to turn its back. So significant were the implications that news spread far and wide. Even the UN body responsible for human rights caught wind of the plans, and gave a scathing assessment through Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha:

“The criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law..the proposed law goes further and is discriminatory - stopping people from engaging in life sustaining activities, and penalising them because they are poor and have no place to live.”

The local backlash was just as decisive. The City of Melbourne’s public consultation process received a staggering 2,556 responses, with up to 90% recording a negative reaction. 84% against expanding the definition of ‘camping’, and an overwhelming 98% against the charge to recover belongings. Many respondents regarded the amendments as a shift in the council’s culture, as noted in high level analysis from the Submissions Committee:

“Although the focus of the the proposed Local Law is on improving amenity, the proposed changes have been seen as ‘referendum on homelessness’ and a change of approach from Council’s current role of supporting homeless people.”

In the the face of widespread condemnation, the council backed down. In September, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle announced that the controversial amendments would be shelved. The mayor had received advice from law firm Maddocks reinforcing the concerns of legal professionals and homelessness advocates: that the laws may be in breach of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities; and could “conceivably” result in cruel or degrading treatment. The mayor summed it up as follows:

“I have no doubt that any change to the local law would be tested in the courts, which could tie us up in expensive legal proceedings potentially for more than a year. Whether you win or lose you lose. You lose in time, you lose in the people you're trying to help, you lose in dollars.”

However, it was also revealed that council had already begun trialing a new Homelessness Protocol, drafted in association with Victoria Police. The protocol encourages greater intervention under the existing Activities Local Law. And whilst the law does not authorize a police response, it does emphasise greater collaboration between agency law enforcement and council’s Authorised Officers. The protocol also indicates the changing nature of council’s engagement with homeless persons, favouring “more assertive actions”. These include provisions to remove unattended belongs:

“Items left unattended which impact on the amenity, enjoyment and use of the public space or that create a potential security risk will be removed with personal items stored and the remainder disposed of”...”Belongings should be kept to a reasonable minimum, being two bags which can be carried and other bedding like a sleeping bag, blanket or pillow.”

Rough sleepers will be not be allowed to gather together in number, with groups of more than 4 considered to be a “heightened amenity impact”, to be “strongly discouraged”. Council officers will have the authority to disperse larger groups and can “call on police to intervene if safety risk is perceived”. Entrances to businesses and residences must not be blocked: “customers are to be free to enter and exit all buildings when open”. Disabled access must maintained throughout the municipality and not be impeded.

What both examples above demonstrate, is that council has firmly shifted policy towards a “lower tolerance of street clutter and amenity impacts”. But whilst ‘street clutter’ may be qualified as more than 2 bags of personal belongings; or more than 4 rough sleepers gathered together, an unacceptable ‘amenity impact’ is more difficult to identify. The protocol states that “behaviour in the public space should not impact the enjoyment of other users of the public place”, and gives a scenario example:

“A group of rough sleepers set up in one city block during the day which intimidates other user[s] of the public space and impacts amenity.”

The appropriate response under the existing law is then given:

“CoM will use its power under the Activities Local Law regarding behaviour (part 2), specifically nuisance (clause 2.1a) and amenity (clause 2.1b) to take action and will call upon VicPol to intervene if safety risk is perceived.”

The degree to which a homeless person's’ presence or activity ‘intimidates’ other users, or provides a ‘nuisance’ seems highly subjective. Assessment of such would be up to the discretion of the individual officers involved. However, it should be noted that council has provided a strong mechanism for public complaint making, with options available to report a homeless person's behavior via automatic telephone prompts.

Lara Brown and Stephen Herbst representing Architects for Peace at council’s submissions committee meeting on 06/04/17. Our written submission against the proposed local law amendments was received by council in March. Photo Chester Ngan.

It is clear that homelessness policy in City of Melbourne is undergoing a process of change. Evidenced in the Local Law amendments, and the homelessness protocol, is a perceptible shift of focus. The field of view is being redirected towards addressing the coalface symptoms of homelessness, and away from its root causes. Council appears to be intent more than ever on ‘cleansing’ its streets, rather than lighting up ‘pathways out of homelessness’ for the city’s vulnerable.

Thankfully, community expectations have not moved in the same direction. The impassioned response to the proposed Local Laws shows a discerning acknowledgement of the complexities of the homelessness crisis. There was a clear call for compassion, from constituents and community organisations alike, and respondents reinforced the need for increased supportive housing and welfare services.

Architects for Peace firmly shares this sentiment, and continues to watch this area closely. We will look to share further developments, as the homelessness protocol proceeds through its trial phase.

Stephen Herbst - Editor

13 November 2017

Parque Forestal: a persistent urban project that integrates nature and city

El Parque Forestal: persistente proyecto urbano integrador de la naturaleza y la ciudad

In the month of urbanism, I was invited to write a column for the National Museum Benjamín Vicuña MacKenna (Santiago, Chile). This column is intended as “a space of reflection and participation and seeks to collect the opinion from citizens, specialist and academics on the city”. I chose to write about Parque Forestal, an urban park designed in the year 1900 by the French architect George Dubois. 

This linear urban park is significant in that it recognises and incorporates the geographical situation and natural landmarks defining the city (the Andes, its mountain ranges, and the Mapocho River). Because of the Parque Forestal´s flawless design logic, new parks continue to be created in all the municipalities crossed by the river. These parks stretch along the Mapocho river, creating a system of open spaces—urban “windows”— and allowing us to contemplate the Andes mountains in a continuous manner.  

In times when urban gestures tend to be timid, surrendering the responsibility of cities (in all their complexity) to others, often the market and their developers, it is crucial to revisit and value the work done by our predecessors—the urbanists—and recuperate the drive that will permit us make cities better places for all. (Article in Spanish, published by the MNBVM on November 1, 2017).

Parque Forestal y Río Mapocho durante la proyección del Museo Arte de Luz, donde 14 artistas expusieron sus obras (2015). 
Frecuentemente asociamos el urbanismo a los llenos formados por los edificios e infraestructura. Se nos olvida que parte importante de esta forma e imagen de la ciudad está compuesta por sus espacios abiertos, los vacíos, los espacios verdes—esos relieves que nos recuerdan que la ciudad respondió en su origen a su situación geográfica y paisajística natural—.
A pesar de que en Santiago transgredimos constantemente estos orígenes, aun conservamos sus huellas. Entre estos, el río Mapocho, algunos de los riachuelos (hoy canales), incluso nuestra avenida principal (Alameda) que alguna vez fue un curso de agua. También nos quedan parte de las vistas majestuosas de la cordillera que se insinúan entre edificios y gigantografías que imponen en el habitante sus burdos mensajes.

En la conformación de Santiago, se valoró y destacaron sus orígenes, su topografía y es así como el río Mapocho, a pesar de la canalización que lo despojó de su capacidad de mantener sus ecosistemas, fue por otra parte enaltecido con el Parque Forestal. Parque lineal, diseñado por el arquitecto francés George Dubois en el año 1900, como primer parque urbano moderno del país y que formó parte de un conjunto de estrategias urbanas que transformaron y humanizaron la ciudad.

El Parque Forestal, que acompañaría en su recorrido al Río Mapocho, fue concebido como lugar de paseo y contemplación, de encuentro e integración, fue delineándose paulatinamente con edificios residenciales y coronado por el Museo de Bellas Artes (1905-1910). La irreprochable lógica de su concepción como paisaje urbano longitudinal, unificador y complejo en su ambición, permitió que en la medida que la ciudad crecía, este parque continuara extendiéndose e integrando municipios, más allá de lo originalmente proyectado. Es así como nuevos parques se han sumado a su sistema, tanto desde el oriente como del poniente de la ciudad, uniéndose a este poderoso gesto urbano inclusivo.

Además de la belleza de su diseño y sus árboles, el Parque Forestal tiene valor inmaterial como construcción cultural reconocida en su calidad de zona típica. En el esparcimiento y el caminar se mezclan y conviven creativamente diversos grupos sociales, diversas edades y nacionalidades, enriqueciendo el parque con sus picnics, actividades comunitarias y variadas expresiones artísticas. En tiempos de condominios (ricos y pobres), donde lo fácil e inmediato es optar por el cerramiento y la exclusión—la antítesis de lo urbano—, el Parque Forestal, hito urbano integrador, complejo y persistente, se mantiene firme y abierto.

El parque Forestal nos recuerda que es posible e indispensable pensar la ciudad desde el proyecto urbano, con estrategias generosas que nuevamente transformen a Santiago y la conviertan en una ciudad amigable. El proyecto urbano requiere valorar los vacíos, proveyendo con más avenidas en la que podamos reconocer el entorno natural con sus magníficas vistas de la cordillera, integrando a todos sus habitantes en el reencuentro con la naturaleza y de paso, en el redescubrimiento de nuestra identidad.

Vista de la Plaza Italia (Baquedano), desde el Parque Forestal, con la cordillera de fondo (2017). 
Tanto hacia el oriente, como al poniente de la ciudad, nuevos parques se han integrado al sistema originado por el Parque Forestal (vista del parque en la comuna de Providencia).

Beatriz Maturana Cossio (PhD): Architect RMIT University. Master of Urban Design and PhD, University of Melbourne, Australia. Academic Director & Director of International Relations at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Chile. Adjunct Professor of RMIT University, Australia. Founder of Architects for Peace.

30 June 2017

Shelter: The inconographic nature of temporary structures

In his most recent work, 'Refuge' Melbourne artist Kevin Chin explores the iconographic nature of temporary structures. His images are a reminder that we should not underestimate the role temporary structures play in our society. We asked Kevin what he thought temporary structures symbolise about our current world.

Rain Hail Shine, 2017, oil on Italian linen, 163 x 238 cm. Image: Kevin Chin.

'Refuge’ was a year in the making, and comprises five large-scale oil paintings. I had been reading widely about the global migrant crisis, and this mass media imagery was in my consciousness while developing the compositions. I restaged what became like symbols that I found kept repeating, and that resonated – like temporary shelter structures, children in queues, and domestic refuge.

By recreating these potent icons and rearranging their context, they’ve been translated away from specific world events, and into universal aspects of the human condition, we can all relate to – themes of journey, transition and sanctuary.

The temporary structures depicted in these paintings are used to speak of a broader sense of transience and instability. This reflects a global sense of insecurity, in the context of the US election of Trump, the resurgence of political parties like One Nation in Australia, and continuing debate around who belongs and who doesn’t. In this way, I believe temporary structures say more about our current society than permanent structures – about uncertainty, that things are constantly being re-evaluated and in a state of flux.

The theme of shelter in the paintings touches on the basic human need we all share, to feel secure and protected. My aim is to subtly reference these issues in a way that’s gentle, that makes you want to look closer, and then ask more about what’s going on. I hope to turn these issues into universal themes that we can all relate to, and thereby create a compassionate response.

Sheltered, 2017, oil on Italian linen, 97 x 142 cm. Image: Kevin Chin.

Pilgrimage, oil on Italian linen, 132 x 198cm. Image: Kevin Chin.

See ‘Refuge' by Kevin Chin from 1 July - 22 July 2017 at This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery, 108–110 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne.

In 2017 Kevin Chin was awarded a globally competitive residency at Teton Artlab USA. His international exhibiting profile also includes 2014 solo exhibitions at Art Stage Singapore, and Youkobo Art Space Tokyo, for which he was awarded an Ian Potter Cultural Trust Grant. He is the recipient of multiple grants from the Australia Council, City of Melbourne, and National Association for the Visual Arts. 

Visit Kevin's website to find out more about his work.

26 September 2016

Stories From the STREAT

Recently, Architects for Peace met a team of creative people working to empower homeless young people in Melbourne through the sharing of stories. Read on to learn more about the STREAT Stories Mapping Project.

City streets are shared by people from all works of life; from different places, cultures and backgrounds. In our everyday lives we tend to live in our own little worlds. Our journeys around cities are filled with our own memories and thoughts. We see the city through a lens that is clouded with our own histories and world views. We rarely get a chance to think about the city from the perspective of others.

The STREAT Stories Mapping Project provides us with a chance to view new perspectives. It allows us to see the city through a different lens- that of the young people who call the city streets home. They have a very different view of the city to most others, and see the streets from a different angle and at all times of the day. Viewing the city through their lens, we can learn a lot. Not only about our city, but about the lives and experience of others. The project builds compassion through understanding. It provides the broader Melbourne community with an idea of what it feels like to be homeless and disadvantaged in one of the world’s most 'liveable' cities.

STREAT is a much loved Melbourne based social enterprise that provides homeless and disadvantaged young people with life skills, training and work experience. STREAT operates a number of city cafes, and recently unveiled 66 Cromwell St, Collingwood, which incorporates youth spaces, a bakery, roastery and cafe to showcase the teams cooking and coffee making skills. Founded by CEO Bec Scott and Kate Barrelle in 2009, STREAT has trained and supported hundreds of young people. For this project, STREAT collaborated with the non/fictionLab in RMIT's School of Media and Communication and artist Alex Hotchin.

Stayci Taylor and Francesca Rendle-Short  from non/fictionLab have contributed the following words about the project and the process of collaboration:

"At the end of 2015, STREAT collaborated with RMIT University’s non/fictionLab and designer Alex Hotchin to empower the disadvantaged youth participating in STREAT’s programs to tell their own stories. The resulting #STREATstories Story Mapping Project connects homeless youth with other members of their communities. Working from the idea that we all share the same city, the project invites communities to tell their shared stories. 

The first of many planned creations was the Christmas wrapping paper, created from the stories of homeless youth, Indigenous collaborators, participants in STREAT events and shoppers at Melbourne Central. The map was distributed as wrapping paper at Melbourne Central in the busy 2015 holiday season, and supplies ran out several times. 

After an initial period of coming together and brainstorming, Alex Hotchin began the map-drafting process, while stories came in from STREAT participants and events, within which RMIT’s Stayci Taylor ran writing workshops. In October 2015, the non/fictionLab hosted the first official meeting of the blended team of STREAT, RMIT and independent representatives.  Those present included: designer Alex, STREAT CEO Rebecca Scott, Jarryd Williams (STREAT’s General Manager of Youth Programs) and non/fictionLab co-director Francesca Rendle-Short. From here stories were collated for incorporation into Alex’ evolving design. Out of this meeting came other exciting developments, including the inclusion of hashtags to link those experiencing the map to longer versions of the stories, as well as to songs composed from the stories and recorded (#STREATbeats). 

The text comes from the writers’ direct experience of the city.  While some of the text is quite literal in its placement, some invites the reader to enjoy the unexpected context.  Landmarks take subtly new forms as inspired by the imaginative interpretations of some of the writers. One-line snippets from stories run along city streets. Longer stories sit in blocks on the grid. An acknowledgement of country floats through the Yarra. The collaboration with Alex and STREAT aligns with the aims and objectives of the non/fictionLab, which is engaged in creative fieldwork, critical perspectives and imaginative inquiry".

The STREAT Stories Mapping project is an inspiring example of how we can share urban stories. Building shared understanding is a key part of creating strong, connected and inclusive communities.

To learn more about the organisations involved in the STREAT Stories Mapping project, follow the links at the end of this post. We also encourage you to visit #STREATbeats and listen to some of the youth stories that have been turned into songs.

Gathering stories from the STREAT. ©RMITnon/fictionlab

STREAT Stories Map.  ©AlexHotchin

STREAT Stories Map.  ©AlexHotchin

STREAT map christmas gift wrap. ©RMITnon/fictionlab.

non/fiction lab team members Stacyi Taylor and Francesa Rendle-Short. ©RMITnon/fictionlab.

STREAT map christmas gift wrap. ©RMITnon/fictionlab.

STREAT Stories Project Team:

STREAT is a social enterprise helping homeless youth to have a stable self, stable job and stable home. Through its six hospitality businesses in Melbourne STREAT provides young people with supported pathways to employment – including assistance finding stable housing, vocational skills, improved mental health and well-being.

RMIT non/fictionLab is a research centre that critically explores and articulates the value of creative work as a playful vessel for the imagination. This thinking through making can show people who they are and how they are implicated in the lives of others. Non/fiction lab builds and supports laboratories of practice around matters of social, political, cultural and environmental concern. They work in partnership with fellow scholars, writers and artists, and with industries and communities, local and international. The team for this project includes Dr Michelle Aung Thin, Kat Clarke, Dr Melody Ellis, Dr Francesca Rendle-Short, Dr Ronnie Scott and Stayci Taylor. 

Alex Hotchin is an illustrator, creator, map maker and adventurer. Working across a variety of media, she creates work based on the principals of story telling by capturing detailed moments in multi-layered narratives.  She has a particular interest in the art of map making, and uses this medium to tell stories about the inherent subjectivity of experiencing a place.  Her maps have been exhibited in New York, Istanbul and Melbourne.