Liberal Councillor Edward Mandla wants the City of Sydney to shift some of its big spend on zhooshing itself up into the more worthwhile activity of helping the homeless..
It’s the great dichotomy of the City of Sydney. A place that celebrates success with some of the most talented minds is also an epicentre of homelessness. This experience is not unusual. Big cities attract the homeless as they seek resources and community. It’s our task as a civilised society to give them housing and dignity.
Every night, 700-800 people in Sydney meet the definition of being homeless. That number has scarcely budged in a decade. What has budged is community attitude. Few of us can understand why in one of the world’s richest cities with one of the world’s richest councils, we haven’t been able to take care of the less fortunate.
The City of Sydney is a big spender. Most councils struggle and look at our endless, politicised spending in amazement. $10M alone has been spent on consultants’ reports for Council to generate its own on electricity, $9M lost in legal fees on one court case alone, $9M on Public Art Milk Crates and an Arch. Big spending and big press releases is business as usual for the City.
What’s unusual is the city’s ineffectiveness in tackling its own homelessness. The City of Sydney has made little to no progress in the last decade in dealing with this. Clearly, it’s not a lack of financial resources. So it’s either impossible or it’s simply a lack of political will. I am placing the blame for this at the feet of the Lord Mayor who lives in a parallel universe to this problem.
We have clearly failed with homelessness. There is no other way to put it. All the sophisticated reports and bureaucratic terminology that floats across my desk cannot put any finer point on it. The language that the City of Sydney wraps around this is ensconced in psychobabble.
The City wrote to me concerning the people in Wentworth Park. I was told that dealing with the homeless in Wentworth Park was a “collaborative approach” and was based on a “co-production model from the United Kingdom, that promotes mutuality and reciprocity; recognises people as assets; builds on people’s capacities.” That’s how we describe the homeless at the City of Sydney.
The unfortunate victims in Wentworth Park of our “co-production model” are no better housed, but they can take comfort that they have a much better vocabulary.
Homelessness is the “sacred cow” of the City. It’s hard to get questions answered and this week I’ve been formally advised to stop commenting. The Lord Mayor’s supporters are also keen to attack me, asking “What would you do about it?” A clear sign the white flag has been raised.
I would have a will to eliminating homelessness. I would communicate that our first and sacred duty is to those at the bottom of the economic totem pole.
I would cease blaming past and present State governments. We’re the City of Sydney and we’re big enough and rich enough to manage our own streets and parks.
There is a place for homeless counts, meetings, workshops, forums, summits, cross agency talks, consultants and reports. But there is a risk the homeless are reduced to statistics and case studies.
There is a time where you just need to accept responsibility and develop the determination to transition people one by one to housing maintaining their need for community
We cannot claim to be a world city without demonstrating our ability to manage and transition 700-800 people through homelessness and its causes. If we don’t we will simply not be taken seriously and as a City to be reckoned with.