Homeless people and activists pictured in front of the Bendigo Street, Collingwood, house at the centre of a standoff with the Office of Housing. Photo: Justin McManus A Facebook post promoting a street party to be held this Sunday in Bendigo Street, Collingwood. Photo: Facebook
Greens MP for Melbourne, Ellen Sandell, at the Collingwood house occupied by homeless people. The house is owned by the government and was to be demolished for the abandoned East West Link tollway.
A homeless person in front of the Bendigo Street, Collingwood, house that has been occupied. The government-owned house had sat vacant for more than a year. Photo: Justin McManus
They arrived last month to occupy empty, government-owned houses in Collingwood bought for the East West Link and vacant for more than a year.
Now, the occupants of one of the houses are throwing a street party – with at least 300 people saying they are coming.
Since late March, homeless people and activists have occupied the Bendigo Street house, bought in 2014 by the Victorian government for the abandoned road project.
Their occupation became fiercely politicised after some were evicted.
The people occupying the house were told last week by the Office of Housing to get out, with the Salvation Army due to be given the property to manage next Tuesday.
There were six people who appeared to be living in the three-bedroom house when Fairfax visited this week. A number of activists were also coming and going from the house.
The government appears reluctant to create a flashpoint by forcibly evicting the residents, who say they are not leaving any time soon.
And on Sunday, a party has been planned, with 1400 people invited on Facebook. Three hundred say they will be there. Another 700 say they may come.
A neighbouring property, also bought for the dumped road project, has been occupied by a group of local Aboriginals.
“We will stay until the government comes clean with what is happening with these East West Link houses,” said Spike, an activist who would not give his real name.
He said nothing had been done with the houses until homeless people had drawn attention to the fact they were still sitting vacant. “They said they were going to do something to house homeless people and they’ve done nothing.”
Premier Daniel Andrews floated the idea in late 2014 that more than 100 homes bought for the East West Link could be used to “provide support and assistance to some of the most vulnerable in our community.”
The loosely organised groups speaking out about the occupation of the Collingwood houses argue it is disgraceful the government has instead either left most of the East West Link homes vacant or gone to the private market to rent or sell them.
Last week, Office of Housing director Nick Foa wrote to the occupiers of the Bendigo Street house, demanding they leave to “ready the home for use by homeless Victorians”. The group has also been visited twice by the Salvation Army.
In all, there are six vacant houses in Collingwood’s Bendigo St that are owned by the state government.
Greens MP Ellen Sandell recently visited the occupied Bendigo Street house, and was pictured in one Facebook post on a beanbag chatting to occupiers.
She has voiced her support for those occupying it in Parliament this month, saying they had taken “a bold stand because housing affordability in Victoria has reached crisis levels”.
“I want to lend my support to their requests and urge the minister to take real action on Victoria’s housing crisis,” Ms Sandell said.
Housing Minister Martin Foley said the people in the Bendigo Street house were stopping works needed before the home could “become available to a family that needs it. They should leave immediately”.
He said it was “time the Greens got off their beanbags” so that homeless people could access the house.
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