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Politicians in the Western Australian city of Perth have been accused of trying to hide the town’s homeless population during a major international conference.
During the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting - where leaders from former British colonies were meeting - the city’s government provided a number of extra beds and services for rough sleepers. However, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sue Ellery, said the move was just a cynical attempt to mask the extent of the city’s homeless problem.
“There’s absolutely no doubt this is just about getting them off the street and giving them a false sense of hope while the dignitaries are in town,” Ellery said.
Under the authorities’ plan, a special 24-hour mental health, drug and alcohol service was provided during the conference, which was at the end of October. Rough sleepers were also moved away from Perth’s Central Business District. Ms Ellery criticised this as well, saying that the services ought to be provided all the time, not just while foreign visitors were in town.
“I think it is absolutely cruel that for three days, this is where we can put you [homeless people] and show the dignitaries we’re providing these services, but then after that, you’re on your own,” Ellery said.
Similar tactics have been used before during major international events. Before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver The Pavement reported the authorities’ efforts to forcibly remove rough sleepers from the ‘Olympic Zones’ set up for the tournament. The Olympics has been shown to have a particularly bad effect on the lives of homeless people. A 2007 study by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions found that, in every city it examined, the Olympic Games had helped make the poorest people poorer and speed up the number of evictions.
Londoners will be concerned that, ahead of our own Olympics next summer, a similar pattern might emerge among the capital’s rough sleepers. Police in the UK have already been accused of heavy-handed tactics - particularly in light of recent projects like Operation Poncho, which was attacked for harassing rough sleepers in the City of London.