Victorian Building Authority Orders Winter Night Shelter Shut Down

22 August 2019

Left out in the cold by the Victorian Building Authority.


Numbers of people experiencing homelessness in Australia are increasing. Every night in the Yarra Valley, more than 300 people are experiencing homelessness, with many sleeping in doorways, the park and in cars.

The Church has always cared for the poor and provided sanctuary. Now they are responding to this growing issue with local initiatives and winter shelters modelled on successful projects overseas.

Stable One has support from high levels of government, local councils, local communities, police and housing support agencies, and has managed to engage churches across all denominations to work together. The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) is the only one standing in the way.

The Stable One Winter Shelter was shut down on 21 August by a strict interpretation of the VBA building regulations.

Some municipal building surveyors, on the advice of the VBA, have expressed a view that churches must obtain a new occupancy permit to change the use of their buildings to include‘accommodation’. We believe this incorrectly characterises the program and inflates the perceived risk. Though guests are given the opportunity to sleep on a camp bed, it is not a kind of private lodging. The primary function and use of the program is to provide those experiencing homelessnessa place to seek ‘protection or sanctuary from hostile conditions’ (Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘Shelter’).

Following legal advice, Stable One’s Winter Shelter went ahead again this Winter on the understanding that partner churches are not in breach of their current occupancy permit. The limited scope, scale and duration of the program (13 nights of 365 in each church) precludes any inconsistency between the use of the church and its classification as an ‘assembly building’.

We call upon local councils, state government and the VBA to take a common sense approach and allow shelter at the worst time of the year to be available to the most vulnerable. This is all that needs to happen for winter shelters to operate across the state, and continue to make a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Contact Jenny Willetts, Managing Director, Stable One 0466 565866

press release - pdf