Public forum on policing public space

Thank you to everyone who attended PIAC’s online forum on 18 May and heard from policy, legal and consumer experts, as we formally launched a new joint report with Homelessness NSW.

‘Policing Public Space: The experiences of people sleeping rough,’ highlights how negative interactions with police can stop people who are experiencing homelessness from enjoying their rights and engaging with services to secure housing and achieve their goals.

More than one hundred people joined the forum, which included a ‘solutions focussed’ discussion moderated by the lead author, Madeleine Humphreys, featuring panellists Rebecca Warfield (consumer advocate, StreetCare), Samantha Sowerwine, (Principal Lawyer, Justice Connect), and Professor Luke McNamara, (Co-Director of the Centre for Crime, Law and Justice at UNSW).

Launching the report, Madeleine Humphreys said that the people she interviewed for the report shared harrowing stories of being unfairly moved on, searched, and subjected to excessive force by the police.

‘The overwhelming majority of people sleeping rough are suffering from physical and mental health issues or trauma. A policing response to homelessness is inappropriate, ineffective, and can cause significant harm,’ said Ms Humphreys.

‘We would like to see police working more collaboratively with homelessness services, who are better placed to respond.’

Prof Luke McNamara, Co-Director of the Centre for Crime, Law and Justice at UNSW, emphasised the importance of qualitative data drawing on lived experience to make visible ‘ground level’ practices and develop and implement better policies and procedures.

Samantha Sowerwine said that research by Justice Connect in Victoria had also found that negative interactions between people experiencing homelessness and the police were commonplace.

Ms Sowerwine raised concerns about the Victorian COVID response leading to increased community acceptance of the policing of public health measures, and more negative interactions between homeless people and police, resulting in fines and charges.

We are particularly grateful to consumer advocate Rebecca Warfield for sharing her personal experiences. She spoke of the negative impact of having been targeted by police for attention because of her homelessness and disability.

You can see live tweets from the event at #PIACtalks

Read ‘Policing Public Space: The experiences of people sleeping rough’.

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