There are varying perspectives on the controversial issue of homelessness and what constitutes as being homeless. Homelessness is defined under Australian federal law as ‘inadequate access to safe and secure housing’.
The current studies indicate that homeless people are more likely to seek legal assistance from people or services that they are familiar with. There are an array of agencies and organizations that specifically assist homeless people providing food, shelter, medical attention and drug and alcohol treatment.
Homelessness is a growing issue and as mentioned, majority of homeless people come to non-legal agencies before taking legal aid. Behind me, we can see the various contact agencies.
The Sackville report was created in 1976 by Professor (now Justice) Robert Sackville, to the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, Homeless People and the Law. Sackville criticised the prevailing view of homeless people as representing a physical danger to the community, and argued that the laws of vagrancy and public drunkenness marginalized and discriminated against those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
In 1985, SAAP was introduced as an attempt to streamline governments’ responses to what Sackville and others had found. SAAP is a joint program of the Commonwealth and the States that funds non-government organisations to provide ‘a safety net’ of services to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. SAAP services include homeless person’s hostels, women’s refuges and youth crisis accommodation.
Recent developments in approaches to homelessness and the law have led to the development of a ‘rights-based’ approach to homelessness. The Burdekin report adopted a human rights framework which linked the experiences of young homeless people with ‘rights’ under international human rights law, and stressed the need for the federal government to recognise and uphold these rights. While legal rights are enforceable under Australian law, ‘human rights’ as outlined in international law are not enforceable unless they are implemented into domestic law. The Rights based approach aims to protect the ‘human rights’ of homeless people.
The current legislation on homelessness is the ‘Homelessness Bill 2012’. This legislation replaced the Supported Accommodation Assistance Act 1994 (Cth) (SAA Act), which set out important principles and has guided the Commonwealth’s response to homelessness in Australia since first legislated in 1985. People who are homeless were recognised in the SAA Act as one of the most powerless and marginalised groups in society. The contemporary Act made clear the Parliament’s view that support should be provided in a way that respects people’s dignity as individuals, enhances their self-esteem, is sensitive to their social and economic circumstances and respects their cultural backgrounds and their beliefs.
Barriers identified as preventing homeless people from addressing their legal needs are commonly divided into two categories: Procedural and Substantive barriers. Procedural barriers refer to ‘obstacles that restrict people’s ability to access the support of the law’. Substantive barriers are ‘laws and law enforcement practices that are formulated and applied seemingly without regard to the impact on homeless people or homelessness’. If we look behind me, we can see examples of these barriers, depriving homeless people of their human rights and access to justice.
The current studies indicate that homeless people are more likely to seek legal assistance from people or services that they are familiar with. Homelessness is a universal issue, however with these facilities in place it makes it effective in providing for their needs. It will not prevent the issue of homelessness but for many organizations it is their aim to prevent