Why we were there and what we accomplished.
I was present at the Occupy Parliament Lawn protest from the evening of May 1st until 7am on the morning of May 4th when the police raided the camp and cleared everyone out.
Let me be clear: I am not homeless. But many of the people in the park were homeless, have been homeless, or will be homeless in the near future.
I had the chance to speak to most people there and hear their stories. What was amazing to me was how varied everyone’s situation was. Some were single parents supporting a family in a small 1-bedroom apartment, some were couch surfing or staying with friends, and some were sleeping in their car. There were people from Hobart, and some from further away. However, a common thread among everyone there was the fact that increasing housing prices were making it very difficult to find appropriate accommodation.
The focus of the camp outside of Parliament was to raise awareness about the housing crisis in Tasmania and to hopefully get the government to take action and make some serious changes to help those struggling to make ends meet.
In a place like Hobart, where homeless people are mostly sleeping in the surrounding suburbs, it’s easy to believe that there isn’t a problem. Most people could spend years in Hobart, in and around the downtown area, without ever seeing the obvious signs of homelessness like it appears in bigger cities. By setting up camp in Salamanca, residents and tourists were shown the reality of homelessness in Tasmania.
The media took notice too, with news of the protest being covered in print, online, and on television and radio broadcasts. News organizations from across the state and the country covered the protest and highlighted how serious the housing crisis is in Tasmania.
Over the three days of the protest, many people stopped to ask questions and learn about the issue of homelessness. They stopped to share their own experiences with the housing crisis. Nearly everyone that stopped to talk was supportive of the cause and agreed something needed to be done.
What was amazing was the range of solutions suggested by people. Rent control, more public housing, regulation of short-term rentals, a limit to the number of rental properties a person can own, ensuring leases can’t be terminated without cause, the list goes on. To say there were no solutions being brought forward is misinformed. Everyone there had their own opinion on what should be done. For an issue as complicated as housing, there won’t be a single solution, there will be multiple solutions ranging from political to economic to social.
What we really wanted was the chance to sit down with the Liberal government and share our stories. We wanted recognition of the issue. We wanted something to be done for disadvantaged people, not just tourists and land developers. We made it easy for the government, we came right to the doorstep of Parliament but the Liberal government still couldn’t be bothered to talk to us.
In the end, the protest was cleared away on Friday morning, conveniently before the Salamanca market on Saturday when tourists and visitors would’ve been walking by in the thousands. The Liberal government obviously wants to hide this issue from the public view and is more concerned about the image of Hobart, rather than the well-being of its citizens. The tents are gone for now, but we are still here and we’ll keep coming back for as long as it takes until something is done to end homelessness in Tasmania.