The Sydney charity Exodus Foundation has questioned the disappearance of a so-called “tent city” near Central Station and fears homeless people are being driven out of the CBD in an effort to clean it up.
In July last year, 55 tents inhabited by homeless people covered Belmore Park, the City of Sydney Council confirmed. Today there are fewer than a dozen.
“It’s almost a different world because you’d walk through here and it was essentially tent city,” Reverend Bill Crews from the Exodus Foundation said.
“Hundreds of people have been moved on to some other place, God knows where. They’ve just vanished.”
The Exodus Foundation provides hundreds of hot meals for the homeless at its Loaves and Fishes Restaurant at Ashfield in Sydney’s inner west.
Reverend Crews said in December and January small groups of high-needs people were driven from Belmore Park to Ashfield with no explanation.
“I don’t like to use the word dumping when it comes to human beings, but in a sense that’s the feeling we got,” Reverend Crews said.
Some had serious mental health issues and required food and accommodation.
Reverend Crews said he believed the City of Sydney is moving people to hide the problem of homelessness.
“I’m sure some have been found good homes. Some have been moved on. Some are in jail,” he said.
“My guess is a lot of them are in parks or in other places like Central railway station trying to sleep.
Mission Australia, Sydney Council deny removing homeless
Mission Australia says it is not being paid to remove people from Belmore Park or elsewhere in the city, using its transport service Missionbeat.
Missionbeat is contracted by the New South Wales Government to help homeless people reach essential services like Centrelink, medical centres or free meals.
Demand for services is increasing as a lack of affordable housing in Sydney forces more people onto the streets, Mission Australia said.
The Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, also denied that homeless people were being pushed out. She said only abandoned tents are removed from Belmore Park.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said Belmore Park was becoming dangerous and the council was “really concerned about our duty of care”.
“There were young, intoxicated minors. There were minors who were in tents with older people,” she said.
NSW Police declined to comment, except to say it is working with Council and other stakeholders.
“Our staff are out there every day – you know, looking into tents to see if they’re okay,” Clover Moore said.
In the last three months council has spent $185,000 installing security patrols at the site.
That trial will continue, although it is not clear for how long.
The Lord Mayor said the City of Sydney is the only council in NSW to have a homelessness unit, and it is investing $4 million over three years to tackle the problem.
“We have to manage public space and make sure it’s safe and looked after” Clover Moore said.
“We also have a policy of responding compassionately to people in need.”
She also called on the NSW Government to invest in more supported accommodation for people who cannot manage in public housing.
‘They’re just trying to get us all out of here’
Belmore park resident Jacob Sie has a brain injury and has lived under a sheet of plastic for five months.
He says many people have left but remain homeless, having moved to other parks, or the safety of a train carriage on the Newcastle or Kiama lines.
“If no one has been in their tent for like say two or three days then they put a notice on the tent,” Mr Sie said.
“Council just comes with a big truck and that and the tents get all ripped down.”
Some former Belmore Park residents have moved under the arches of the light rail bridge at nearby Wentworth Park.
Todd Pollock, 28, is one of them. He has been homeless for a decade.
“I’ve seen situations where tents have gone missing during the day,” he said.
“People have turned up to the tent site, and the tents are gone.”
His neighbour Neil Bullivant, 56, said he feels like no one cares about the tent-dwellers.
“They’re just trying to get us all out of here, that’s how I feel,” he said.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC‘ on 14 February 2016.