“Something just didn’t feel right”: MP questions role of historic Bishopscourt
Walking past the grand colonial mansion Bishopscourt in East Melbourne, on one October day while the state faces a homelessness crisis, Victorian MP Fiona Patten conceded “something just didn’t feel right”.
“Amid a seemingly intractable crisis of homelessness in one of the wealthiest nations, when more than 115,000 people, 35,000 of them in Melbourne and Victoria, have no safe and stable place to be, Bishopscourt houses but two people; the Anglican leader and his wife,” the leader of the Reason Party said.
The 169-year-old mansion, which is located at Clarendon St, overlooks the Fitzroy Gardens, and has been used as the residence for all of Melbourne’s Anglican diocesan bishops and archbishops since it was built in 1853.
“It would be wonderful to see churches publicly undertake to review their landholdings and examine how they might partner with governments, business, and other community organisations to alleviate homelessness,” Ms Patten said.
In response, Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said Bishopscourt was “far from simply a residence” as it “continues to be a place of gathering for a wide range of parish, school, and welfare agency activity as well the wider community”.
“The Anglican Church hosts community housing across Melbourne and Geelong, including at its East Melbourne, Burnley and Brunswick parishes. Homelessness services operate out of St Peter’s Eastern Hill and St Mark’s Fitzroy,” he said.
“The Anglican community service agencies, Anglicare Victoria and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, are heavily engaged in relieving disadvantage and advocating for social change.”
However, Ms Patten argued there was “no doubt the opportunity churches have to examine how they might better use their immense landholdings to serve their congregations and communities”.
“Religions, among the biggest property owners in this nation and so many others, receive massive tax breaks on land and on profitable business operations,” she said.
“There’s great scope and need for collaboration to fix homelessness. The government and the churches have the opportunity to make an almighty difference together, and fast.”
“Victoria is facing an exponential increase in homelessness over the next two decades unless it acts immediately to cut the number of young people currently experiencing the crisis.”
Ms Patten said as she had long argued, the most efficient and cost-effective way to solve homelessness was to provide the homeless with a home.
“It’s a policy called ‘housing first’ and it works around the world – and saves taxpayers’ money. It worked here, by proxy, when people were taken off the streets and given shelter during pandemic lockdowns.”
Ms Patten’s comments come as the Council to Homeless Persons CEO Jenny Smith raised the alarm that the rising cost of living costs were pushing Victorians to the brink.
“More renters are being pushed into homelessness because they can’t find a rental they can afford,” she said.
“Homelessness services are overwhelmed with people desperate for a home, and too many Victorians in urgent need of homelessness support, are missing out.” •