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Homeless removal ‘not a solution’

A Kalgoorlie lawyer has described the use of police move-on notices for homeless Aboriginal people as a “waste of taxpayer money” and a “rat wheel” that would never improve or change the situation for vulnerable people.

Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer Miriam Kelly made the comments last week after her client, Aboriginal man Bronte Jennings, 55, was acquitted of a failure to obey charge, after pleading not guilty to the offence in Kalgoorlie Magistrate’s Court.

Ms Kelly said the common impulse for people to call the police to have a homeless person removed from an area highlighted how unfairly and poorly vulnerable people were dealt with.

She said the use of move-on notices disproportionately affected homeless people, in particular Aboriginal people in the Goldfields.

“We see this so often, these people have addictions to alcohol, are cognitively impaired, vulnerable people and we are dealing with them in the totally wrong way,” Ms Kelly said.

“Aboriginal people who use public spaces in a different way to other cultural groups are more visible to police and are often asked to move on after complaints by business owners.

“This says more about us and how we treat those on the fringes.”

She said Mr Jennings was homeless, had limited ability to read or write and was one of many in similar situations.

Ms Kelly said on Wednesday Mr Jennings appeared in Kalgoorlie Magistrate’s Court charged with about his 30th move-on notice, referred to as a failure to obey charge.

She said for the first time, Mr Jennings pleaded not guilty to the charge and was acquitted on the grounds police had no lawful basis to issue the order.

She said Mr Jennings was in the premises of a bottle shop when the security guard called police to remove him.

“By the time police arrived, he had shuffled off to the other street, he was drunk but I thought it’s not a crime to be drunk, and he was carrying an unopened bottle of wine which many people do,” she said.

“When the police issued him with the order he was already walking away, so there was no legal basis for that order.”

But Ms Kelly said it was a short-term gain and the long- term problem still existed.

“This is someone who really needs an awful lot of support,” she said.

“He spent years cut off from Centrelink benefits because he didn’t have any identification, so he couldn’t access them … he was angry and upset with no money and would go to banks and be violent, someone just needed to have a better approach.”

She said many of her clients needed a carer or support person.

“There’s an early mortality rate among Aboriginal people so they lose a lot of family members early in life and the … result is they end up in Kalgoorlie from the lands, no income and little ability to read and write,” she said.

“We have to think about the way we treat these people and the way taxpayer money is spent.

“It costs a huge amount of taxpayer funds go towards court costs and policing and paying for imprisonment where Bronte might end up after racking up thousands in fines.”

Goldfields-Esperance assistant district officer and inspector Brad Jackson said the crux of using move-on notices was to divert people away from courts.

He said to hand out move-on notices police must have reasonable suspicion that someone is violent, about to be violent, committing breaches of the peace, hindering someone going about lawful activity, and intending to or committing an offence.

“Move-on notices are a good way of dealing with situations without charging them and sending them to court,” Insp. Jackson said.

“In terms of homeless people we don’t know if they are homeless or not … it’s about their behaviour but we don’t just give a move-on notice, we also often give them support and take them home or to hospital.

“There’s one particular guy I’ve dealt with where police take him home regularly and buy him food … because he’s in a bad situation.”

He said homelessness needed to be tackled with a whole community approach.

Ms Kelly said it was often local businesses wanting homeless Aboriginal people removed from their premises.

“I can see the situation from their perspective. They’re worried that it’s going to impede on their business but at the same time we need an alternative,” she said.

“We need a drop-in centre or something for them, which could be directed to instead of just calling the cops.

“Another idea is an example from a shopping centre in Melbourne who had real problems with homeless people and they hired a youth worker to go around and talk to them and find out what they needed.”

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