Urgent action needed to address homelessness in Yarra Ranges

Published on 02 September 2019

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Council has had positive discussions with the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) about issues regarding temporary accommodation for homeless people following recent news of Stable One's Winter Night Shelters closure.

Yarra Ranges Mayor, Tony Stevenson, said Council had begun working with the VBA on solutions regarding issues with temporary occupancy permits and the Building Act.

“We’ve had some very positive discussions with the VBA in the last week. The VBA will look at possibilities, such as guidance for Councils and community groups with similar issues," Cr Stevenson said.

"We look forward to working with the VBA and Stable One to resolve these issues, so future events will have a way forward and clarity about what needs to be done.” 

Earlier this year, following on advice from the VBA, Council confirmed that organisations offering temporary or permanent accommodation for homeless people would be required to obtain relevant occupancy permits to ensure buildings are safe for that use.

Council notified Stable One of these requirements in April and provided them an opportunity to apply for a Temporary Occupancy Permit under Section 64 of the Building Act 1993 for this year and a building permit for the following year prior to the Winter Night Shelter commencing in June. 

Following a unanimous Council resolution, Council provided support for the Winter Night Shelter Project.

Additionally it was decided to seek support from other councils and to advocate to the Minister for Planning for changes to the building regulations, to help support community organisations in providing temporary shelter for homeless people. 

In response to this the Minister confirmed that any organisation that is wishing to accommodate – temporary or permanent – needs to hold the relevant occupancy permits indicating that the building is fit for occupation and use as accommodation.

Council was then made aware that the Winter Night Shelters were still operating.

Unfortunately, based on the advice from the VBA, Council had no choice but to ask them to stop operating until an occupancy permit was in place.  

Cr Stevenson said that organisations assisting people who are experiencing homelessness, such as Stable One, face significant building works if they want to continue under the current Building Act.

“In Yarra Ranges, homelessness has continued to grow over the last decade due to a number of factors, such as the increase in housing prices and extreme scarcity of affordable rental properties,” Cr Stevenson said.

“It’s a reality that any person in the community is only a few steps away from experiencing homelessness and though we have some great organisations and volunteer groups working to help people sleeping rough, there needs to be more action at the Government level to help address the causes and provide flexibility and assistance to those working on the ground.

“The Building Act requires fire safety equipment upgrades and essential safety measures to be implemented on a building to make it eligible for a temporary occupation – for groups offering one night of accommodation in a local church, the cost of those works just isn’t feasible.

“While we understand the importance of fire safety measures when it comes to buildings used for accommodation, the act provides little flexibility for groups utilising community buildings for very short term relief services.”

Stable One was established by concerned community members in 2016 to provide shelter for the homeless in partnership with churches located in Yarra Ranges.

The Stable One Winter Night Shelter pilot project first ran in 2017 and on the back of its success the project ran for a second year in 2018. A similar project is planned in 2019.

The shelters are located at seven participating churches in and around Lilydale, each church providing one night’s accommodation per week on a rotating basis for 13 weeks during the winter months.

Last year the shelters provided accommodation for 26 men and women from Yarra Ranges. 

“The state building regulations are in place to help protect the community by minimising risks, particularly matters such as health, amenity and fire safety ,” Cr Stevenson said.

“Based on the advice from the Victorian Building Authority, we’ve had no choice but to ask Stable One to stop operating until they have occupancy permits to ensure the health and safety of the occupiers of the building.

“We’re bound by the State Government’s legislation so we hope the Planning Minister looks into a review of the Act with some urgency, so that organisations doing great work with some of our most vulnerable community members have more clarity, flexibility and discretion about how they can continue.

“In the meantime, we’ll continue to advocate in this space with other Councils and provide support and advice where we can to our community groups.”