Lucy's cover image
Lucy

Lucy Adams

Year of Award: 2013 Award State: Victoria Legal > General
Social Welfare > Homelessness
To address the negative impact of laws regulating public space on people experiencing homelessness - USA, Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, UK

Scott[1] is a 42 year old father of five. He has an acquired brain injury, he battles depression and anxiety and he has struggled with alcohol dependence for over 20 years. He has been homeless for large parts of his adult life. Scott approached Justice Connect Homeless Law for assistance with thousands of dollars in fines for being drunk in a public place. Each one was over $500. His weekly income was $250. We assisted Scott to navigate the legal system set up to deal with fines and infringements. Two years, four court appearances and 13 supporting reports later, the fines had been resolved. Throughout the protracted process, despite a concerted effort at recovery, Scott had received more fines during relapses. And so the process started again. 

Justice Connect Homeless Law is a legal service for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.[2] Each year we provide legal assistance to approximately 200 people who have received fines or charges for ‘public space offences’, including having an open container of liquor in public, begging, being drunk in a public place, littering, and conduct on public transport (for example, not paying to travel, smoking on the platform or having your feet on the seat). 

Homelessness makes it: 

  • more likely that you will receive fines or charges for public space offences because you are carrying out your private life in a public place; and
  • extremely difficult to deal with fines or charges either through payment or navigating the unwieldy legal process. 

The laws, policies and practices that seek to regulate public space in Victoria do not effectively address the underlying causes of a person’s offending. Instead, financial penalties or charges are issued to struggling people, increasing the strain they’re already under. The system also places a burden on legal and community services that assist clients to deal with their fines and charges and causes congestion in the court [3]. 

 

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[1] Name has been changed.

[2] Justice Connect Homeless Law was formerly the PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic. Established 12 years ago, Justice Connect Homeless Law is a specialist legal service for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Homeless Law staff work closely with over 400 pro bono lawyers to provide legal information, advice and representation to hundreds of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness each year. Our services are outreach based and client centred, and we don’t just focus on legal issues. Our Homeless Law social workers and our relationships with the homelessness sector build our capacity to understand and respond to clients with a range of non-legal needs. Our vision is to improve outcomes for our clients through the provision of holistic legal services and evidence-based advocacy. For more information see www.justiceconnect.org.au/our-programs/homeless-law.

[3] See, eg, Justice Connect Homeless Law, What’s the Cost? Infringements System Review (November 2013) (available at: http://www.justiceconnect.org.au/our-programs/homeless-law/law-and-policy-reform/infringements-and-public-space-offences/infringements-public-space-and-homelessness) (Justice Connect Homeless Law, What’s the Cost?).

 

 

 

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