MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire mayor Cr Sam Hearn said seven homeless people were given permission last month to use the camping ground at Rosebud.
The shire had been “trying to find places for them to stay” when a second group of four to six people arrived.
Cr Hearn said the allotted area did not have the capacity to accommodate such large numbers and if allowed to continue could lead to a shanty town.
Cr Hearn said homeless people had “year after year” used camping ground over summer with several always “staying on” after the end of the camping season.
“It gets to the point where the police are asked to move them on,” he said.
Cr Hearn said the people then moved to another spot before again being asked to leave.
He termed the annual arrival and subsequent departure of homeless people as a merry-go-round.
The shire had “advocated for many years” that it was a problem that should be handled by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The difference this year, made worse by the COVID-19 crisis, is that we have allowed them to stay longer,” Cr Hearn said.
“The cycle keeps happening and the state government never actually has to step up.”
He said the shire “tends to go to the police to ask them to move [the homeless] campers on”.
Cr Hearn said the situation was “completely inadequate … with the shire stuck in the middle”.
With up to 60 homeless people across the shire and possibly 1000 others “couch surfing” it was a “big immediate issue” that involved the shire “because it’s on our doorstep”.
“We’re hitting a brick wall because the state is not providing enough funds to stop the ongoing merry-go-round.
“I think I need to sleep outside [the Premier] Daniel Andrews’ office to get some attention and help.
“This is the twenty-first century and we are a very prosperous country, but we don’t have a universal approach to the significant issue of homelessness.
“Personally, I’m heartbroken that it is the case in our community that these people don’t know where they’ll go. It’s a lack of leadership by the state.
“Any action we take is over and above what the shire is expected to do.”
Cr Hearn said he had been to Rosebud and spoken to some of the homeless people camped there.
He could sympathise with them as, when aged 19, his family “broke up” and he lived with friends until their rental house was sold, forcing him to couch surf for three to four months.
“I was never actually homeless, but it’s uncomfortable not knowing how long you can stay or if you are entirely welcome.”
Cr Hearn said plans underway earlier this year to use churches for overnight accommodation for the homeless under the name Stable 1, had been abandoned when a similar program in the Yarra Ranges was closed.
“We thought they could stay just one night in each church, but this was not possible it seems, because the churches failed to meet state accommodation regulations,” he said.
“It’s a really frustrating and disappointing situation and it can falsely look like it’s a shire responsibility. Many people do not actually realise it is a state government problem.
“We’re all the time going round in circles without seeing any real change, although if we had 60 people in a shanty town it probably would get state level attention.”
Cr Hearn said the only alternative accommodation found by the shire for the Rosebud campers was at St Kilda or Dandenong.
“But they are local people, and this takes them away from their support networks and services, so are not the best options.”