Council ‘sent security officers with guard dogs’
THE founder of a homelessness charity protesting against Gold Coast City Council this afternoon says she is "disgusted" by efforts to block her organisation helping those in need.
But councillor Gail O'Neill said the situation was being misrepresented and the council was trying to balance the wellbeing of the homeless with that of the wider community.
Director Theresa Mitchell told the Bulletin Agape Outreach has been forced to shift into paid premises at Twin Towns Uniting Church hall, eating into funds to feed and otherwise support individuals and families sleeping rough.
It comes after Agape became embroiled in a stoush with the council late last year over the charity's use of Goodwin Park at Coolangatta.
Since then, charity You Have a Friend has also reported run-ins with council officers.
Recently, the Bulletin reported on ill homeless man Graeme Aitken, 66, who has been fined four times by the council for illegally camping at Burleigh Beach.
However, council hit back and said it "offered to assist Agape to find a suitable alternative site to ensure their food service needs can be met safely".
"The City is not stopping Agape from providing support services but rather asking them to co-operate with us to ensure this park remains safe and enjoyable for all users," a spokeswoman said.
Ms Mitchell was adamant the council has been making things difficult for Agape, which feeds about 80 people each night.
"I think it's disgusting that council thinks that they don't need to support people in poverty and that they're actually using ratepayer funds to do this," she said.
"Take for example our Christmas party, they sent security officers with muzzled guard dogs to come and stand around us because we refused to close down.
"We're not the only group that's been shipped out of the area and the council are maintaining that we cannot give more than one meal a week to people in poverty, we can't give away free clothing, can't bring the doctor or dentist, can't bring any laundry services or haircutting, and they've been locking the toilets to stop (the homeless) accessing them.
"We're paying private hire fees in a hall now to be able to continue our services."
The council had a different take on the situation.
"In relation to the claims above, Orange Sky Laundry has its own permit to operate; Agape's current permit remains and allows them to provide food services three times a week - additional services like hairdressing, vet care and clothing do not form part of this permit, and toilets are locked overnight to ensure community safety," a spokeswoman said.
"The modification or removal of a permit would be required to be done in writing and no letter to this effect has been issued by the City."
Cr O'Neill said there has been "anti-social and violent activities going on in that park".
She said residents were impacted and "we feel compelled to do everything we can to help".
Cr O'Neill said she had supported Agape with divisional donations in the past and "applauded" its work, but said the charity needed to work with the council.
Ms Mitchell believes homelessness is a growing issue across the Gold Coast and Tweed and more needed to be done to make support more easily available.
The "human rights for the homeless" protest will start at Tugun Village Community Centre at 3pm today.