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The NSW Government introduced the Protocol for homeless people in public places to help ensure that homeless people are treated respectfully and appropriately and are not discriminated against on the basis of their homeless status. The protocol also aims to assist homeless people to receive services if they need or request them. It is an important element in the government’s strategy for responding effectively to homelessness.

The protocol

A homeless person is not to be approached unless:

  • they request assistance
  • they appear to be distressed or in need of assistance
  • an official seeks to engage with the person for the purpose of information exchange or provision of a service
  • their behaviour threatens their safety or the safety and security of people around them
  • their behaviour is likely to result in damage to property or have a negative impact on natural and cultural conservation of environment, including cultural heritage, water pollution and fire risks
  • they are sheltering in circumstances that place their or others’ health and safety at risk (for example, staying in derelict buildings, high risk areas)
  • they are a child who appears to be under the age of 16
  • they are a young person who appears to be 16 to 17 years old who may be at risk of significant harm
  • they are a child or young person who is in the care of the Secretary of the Department of Communities and Justice or the parental responsibility of the Minister for Families and Communities.

The protocol does not prevent organisations from taking appropriate action where health or safety is at risk or a breach of the peace or unlawful behaviour has occurred.

If homeless people require assistance, officials can involve appropriate services directly provide advice or information on available services provide a contact point that the homeless person can either call or go to for further advice or help.

Underlying principles of the protocol

The protocol is based on the following principles:

  • Homeless people have the same entitlement as any member of the public to:
    • be in public places, at the same time respecting the right of local communities to live in a safe and peaceful environment
    • participate in public activities or events
    • carry with them and store their own belongings.
  • Organisations that work in areas where their responsibilities are likely to bring them into contact with homeless people will receive sufficient information to enable them to assist homeless people if required, or help homeless people make contact with appropriate services.
  • Homeless people have diverse backgrounds and needs, these should be considered in any response:
    • Cultural sensitivity and respect should be applied when engaging with Aboriginal homeless people and those from different cultural, linguistic or religious backgrounds. Officials should use interpreter services to assist with referring people to relevant services as required.
    • Many homeless people have complex needs such as mental health and/or drug and alcohol issues, or cognitive impairment. These issues may result in behaviour that is seen to be antisocial.
    • Homeless people may have experienced other issues that affect their needs. For example, they may have experienced domestic violence or left custody or statutory care, or they may be asylum seeking refugees with no contacts in the community.
    • The protocol does not override existing laws, statutory requirements or regulations. It does not reduce the powers of organisations or their authority to enforce specific laws and regulations.
  • Homeless people have the same access to a right of reply and appeals/complaints mechanisms as all members of the public.

Where the protocol applies

The protocol applies only to public places such as parks and outdoor spaces ordinarily accessible to the public. It does not apply to private property, or property which is not generally accessible to the public.

The following government organisations with an operational presence in public places or who provide a service to assist homeless people have endorsed the protocol:

  • Family and Community Services
  • Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • NSW Police Force
  • Office of Environment and Heritage
  • NSW Health
  • RailCorp
  • State Transit Authority of NSW
  • Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority
  • Sydney Olympic Park Authority
  • Aboriginal Affairs
  • Ambulance Service of NSW

Each of the above organisations will implement the protocol within its own organisation and will determine how it should be used by all relevant staff, including contract staff such as security officers. Feedback/complaints about the application of the protocol will be managed through existing complaints mechanisms.

Local councils have been advised of the protocol to inform their responses.

Review of the protocol

This protocol will be reviewed every two years from the date of its publication, October 2012.

For further information visit the DCJ Housing or contact Homelessness Policy and Programs:

Manager, Homelessness Policy and Programs
Locked Bag 4001
Ashfield BC 1800

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Last updated: 22 Oct 2019