A foreign owned multi billion-dollar property developer Hong Kong’s Far East Consortium is demanding that homelessness services stay away from a retail strip in Melbourne’s CBD.
The group’s founder from Lifeline, Michael Carter, said they were recently locked out of their headquarters and told other mobile homeless services operating nearby were not welcome.
In an email seen by Fairfax Media, a Far East Consortium representative says “whilst we appreciate your efforts in providing a valuable service to the homeless, we have obligations to our tenants and neighbours to ensure that we provide a safe and sanitary environment”.
The letter said all locks were to be changed immediately and that other homeless organisations were to cease operating in or around Rebecca Walk.
In a further email sent on Tuesday, Far East Consortium retail and leasing manager Roni Karika said the laundry service was “strictly prohibited” and gave the meals service until the end of the week to move out.
The Orange Sky Laundry, founded by this year’s Young Australian of the Year winners, regularly visits the area, along with a St Vincent de Paul food van.
Mr Carter disputes there was an agreement to move out of both pods occupied by Meals on at the Bridge. He said while he accepted the group would eventually have to find a new home, he was upset by the high-handed manner in which they were moved out.
He said locks were put on the shop doors on the same day the email telling them to leave was received.
“They ripped off our signs, which cost us $600 each and were put up at the request of Far East.”
Meals on the Bridge Lifeline is open six days a week and regularly feeds about 60 people, including those living on the streets and people in the suburbs who cannot afford food.
“It is a beautiful community that has been established, and the effect it will have on about 60 people who come every week on different nights is going to be huge,” Mr Carter said.
Since 2012, a homeless meal service called Meals at the Bridge Lifeline has been receiving free rent at the precinct.
Hong Kong’s Far East Consortium is one of the big players in Australia’s skyscraper construction industry, with more than a dozen projects planned across the nation.
The company also manages a small, mostly-vacant, collection of retail pods at Rebecca Walk, underneath a rail viaduct near the Melbourne Aquarium and overlooking Batman Park.
A multi billion-dollar property developer is demanding that homelessness services stay away from a retail strip in Melbourne’s CBD, citing concerns over violence and hygiene.
Putting on a good feed at the Meals on the Bridge Lifeline. Photo: Pat Scala
Meals on the Bridge Lifeline helps about 60 people a week. Photo: Pat Scala
But Far East Consortium sales and marketing manager Lauren Sheldon said that it should have come as no surprise to Meals at the Bridge that its lease was ending, as their rent-free agreement had run out in May.
“Following the cessation of their lease agreement, Far East Consortium has allowed them to continue using the space for the last three months and has communicated the need to have the space vacated for new tenants regularly throughout the relationship,” Ms Sheldon said.
“Unfortunately, this is not the case with assault and safety concerns being reported and build-up of furniture, boxes and other materials around Rebecca Walk.”
“Far East has also been working closely with Melbourne City Council, The Salvation Army and Victoria Police during this process to ensure the safety of residents in the area.”
The Rebecca Walk shops and a nearby car park are leased out by the Victorian Government to Far East Consortium, which has exclusive possession. There are advanced plans to redevelop the precinct into a night market.
The neglected riverside area has long been a magnet for homeless people arriving in Melbourne and nearby Enterprize Park has been a particular focus of complaints from residents and businesses upset about the presence and behaviour of rough-sleepers camped there.