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Homeless Persons Union holds state to account

  • 15 April 2016


An older woman is having painted the façade of her lovely early 20th century place in Melbourne's inner-city suburb of Collingwood.

A neighbour, wearing kooky glasses and highlighted hair, stops for a chat: 'You're making me feel guilty about not doing anything to my place!' she says.

Then they small-talk about how they ought never buy vegetables from the supermarket, but that there are some lovely, if a little pricey, veggies in Clifton Hill.

Such is the friendly banality of home ownership in a rapidly gentrifying suburb of Melbourne. These are just regular middle-class people living their lives. Sometimes in neighbourhoods like these, though, it's hard to remember that their popularity for homebuyers has stemmed from the grit of their radical and disadvantaged histories.

Next door, they haven't forgotten. A handful of people — neither renters nor homeowners — are doing some sprucing of their own, and it's not to do with organic veggies. This collective of housing activists, of all ages and backgrounds, is doing the labour of holding the state government accountable.

Some of Victoria's at least 22,000 homeless people and their allies, collecting under the auspices of the Homeless Peoples Union, are squatting in two state-acquired houses to draw attention to the Victorian state government's mismanagement and silencing of the public housing crisis.

Eighteen months ago, 17 houses on and around Collingwood's Bendigo Street were attained by the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources to make way for the now-defunct East-West link tollway. Until the Homeless Peoples Union began their occupation, seven homes on the 'ghost street' sat empty.

The squatter's demands are simple: 'All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West link that are still in the government's possession be added to the public housing register.'


"Part of the squatters' work is pressuring the government to account for these homes — to articulate how many there are and what is planned for them — which it has so far avoided doing publicly."


More simple, perhaps, knowing that there are currently 33,000 people awaiting public housing in the state, many of whom are scratched from the list only when they die. And yet more stinging: 30 per cent of homeless were born overseas, pointing to a culmination of disadvantage facing racialised people in Australia; and more than 20 per cent are first nations people, living homeless in their ancestral lands.

According to the research the union has undertaken, there are at least 37 habitable houses from the