2016 Bendigo Street housing dispute
From March 2016, a series of occupations of properties owned by the Victorian Government in Australia took place following their acquisition for the construction of the later-aborted East West Link. The houses, most located in Bendigo Street in Collingwood, Melbourne, became the centre of a lengthy dispute between the government, Victoria Police and squatters. The occupations were described by the squatters and some observers as a reaction to the apparent discord between the government's actions and the lack of public housing stock in Victoria.
In July 2013, the Coalition state government under Premier Denis Napthine released detailed plans for its East West Link road project, a tunnel from the city end of the Eastern Freeway to the CityLink M2 tollway through inner Melbourne. The plans included compulsory acquisition of 92 houses and 26 businesses in the project area, which the government claimed to be the bare minimum required to complete the road. However, the acquisitions were criticised by the Labor opposition, which accused the government of failing to consult affected residents, and speculation about a possible class action against the government was reported in the news media. The tollway project was subsequently cancelled by the new Andrews Labor government, who initially committed to transferring 20 of the acquired houses to the social housing sector specifically to house homeless people. However, only four or five of these were filled – with people with personal links to the social housing organisation managing the properties – the rest remained empty 6–18 months later while the state government waited to rent or sell them on the private housing market.
Houses brought under community controlEdit
In March 2016, a group of homeless women attempted to squat one of the empty houses in Collingwood but were quickly evicted by the state government. This sparked a protest at the house involving the Homeless Persons Union Victoria, homeless people, squatters and housing campaigners. After a day-long standoff with the state government over two of the houses, the community gained control of the houses and began using them as a campaign hub, a First Nations embassy and temporary housing for homeless people, demanding that all the properties compulsorily acquired be put on the public housing register. The campaign quickly gained broad support in the neighbourhood and broader community.
On 10 April, the Andrews Labor government announced that the empty properties "could" be used as crisis accommodation for women and families escaping domestic violence, though made no commitments to doing so, or any commitments to providing short term or long term public housing solutions for people escaping family violence.
On 22 and 29 April, the Andrews state government evicted homeless people from two of the empty properties on Gold Street, Clifton Hill. Several more empty houses were occupied in response taking the total occupied to five. Through May, more events around homelessness and housing were held and several more properties brought under community control.
By mid June a total of 15 properties had been involved in the campaign with 10 occupied at that time, mostly by homeless people housed by the campaign. State government sporadically attempt evictions with only two successful. Two homeless people are arrested but not charged during an eviction on Wellington Street on 9 June.
By early August, 14 properties were under community control housing 40–60 previously homeless people, ABC reports 100. The state government continues to refuse to place the properties on the public housing register, or house those currently housed in the properties.
Injunction and housing offersEdit
On 11 August, the state government and police delivered eviction notices to each of the 13 houses occupied at that time, allowing people 24–48 hours to vacate, after which time police would be used to throw people back into homelessness. In response on 12 August, residents from the occupied houses filed an injunction in the Supreme Court of Victoria to stop the evictions. The injunction was granted on the grounds that 24–48 hours was not sufficient time to allow for people to vacate, risking forcing them back into homelessness. The implications for the women and children residing in the occupied houses are particularly taken into consideration. The use of police and private security in evictions was condemned and discouraged by the justice on 14 August.
The injunction and legal processes forced the state government to meet with residents of the houses; three families and three women were able to negotiate pathways into public housing, and to allow time to engage with services, while others were either not offered any housing, or were offered to participate in processes that hindered their access to housing. The keys to several previously occupied homes (such as 16, 12 and 2 Bendigo Street) were handed back to the state government and several residents are housed in public housing, some after waiting for years with 35,000 others on the public housing waiting list.
The injunction was extended several times, ultimately ending on 19 September.
Following the end of the injunction on 19 September, evictions are threatened, but none occur. Community and social services are more formally linked in with residents of the occupied houses on Bendigo Street, specifically to support those affected by intergenerational trauma, substance abuse, domestic and family violence, etc. The state government commits to ongoing processes towards providing housing for some of the remaining residents.
However, these commitments are dishonored on 28 October when the state government surprisingly returned to the use of police to affect an eviction, illegally gaining entry without a warrant to number 13 Bendigo Street, arresting three First Nations/Aboriginal residents without charge. The eviction sparks a wave of new protests, number 13 and number 16 are retaken by the community, a First Nations family is moved into number 16, several speak-outs take place in the street and the state government adopts a strategy of demonisation in the media, mobilising police and media resources on a scale greater than had been seen at any point in the campaign.
On 4 November, a man in his 50s was found to have died inside number 4, Bendigo Street, possibly due to a drug overdose, though this is unconfirmed. Community light candles and lay flowers at the home as a mark of respect. Meanwhile, Housing Minister Martin Foley and the Salvation Army's Brendan Nottle used the person's death to attack residents and the campaign in the media, drug-shaming the homeless community and suggesting the death is further justification for evictions. A fourth family is housed in public housing at this point, making the total housed in public housing from the campaign 4 families and 3 women.
On 10 November, the supreme court issues orders for the "recovery" of 4, 16, 18, 24 and 26 Bendigo Street. Then on 12 November, the state government announced a $109m homelessness funding package that would include: "120 new or developed housing units", "30 units for vulnerable women and children", "a 'rapid housing blitz' providing government purchased and leased homes", "a new crisis centre in Melbourne's west" and "targeted support for people who require alcohol, drug and health services".
- Carlyon, Peta; Bell, Frances (16 July 2013). "Homes and business to go for East West Link". ABC News. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
- Preiss, Benjamin (5 September 2015). "East West Link houses handed over to homeless people". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Johanson, Simon (17 November 2015). "Homes forcibly acquired for East West Link for sale next year". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Dow, Aisha; Preiss, Benjamin (31 March 2016). "Homeless women 'told they had 10 minutes to leave' East West Link home". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Andrewartha, Jacob (6 September 2016). "Homeless retake houses in protest". Green Left Weekly. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Tomazin, Farrah (9 April 2016). "East West Link homes could be used to help family violence victims". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- "Melbourne squatters given reprieve following court case". ABC News. 15 August 2016. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Brennan, Bridget (12 August 2016). "Squatters ordered out of vacant Melbourne properties". ABC News. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Preiss, Benjamin (9 November 2015). "Victoria's public housing waiting list skyrockets". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Lee, Jane (26 August 2016). "East West Link squatters free from eviction for another three weeks". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Lee, Marika Dobbin Thomas and Jane (28 October 2016). "East West Link homes: Bendigo Street squatters told to vacate immediately". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- "Melbourne squat death 'not suspicious' – 2ST". 2ST News. 4 November 2016. Archived from the original on 20 April 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Mills, Tammy (5 November 2016). "Bendigo Street 'beyond the pale' after death: housing minister". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Tomazin, Farrah (12 November 2016). "Labor unveils $109m homelessness package". The Age. Retrieved 19 April 2018.