Homeless Persons Week – a Freo perspective

This week is Homeless Persons Week and it seems that the homelessness situation is getting worse not better in WA.

Homelessness Australia predicts that over 9500 people are homeless every night in WA.

The causes are homelessness are complex from a lack of affordable housing and a waitlist for public housing that is several years long, to family breakdown and mental illness. Nearly 30 per cent are homeless because of financial difficulties and almost 20 per cent because they cannot find affordable, appropriate accommodation.

Homelessness doesn’t just take a severe toll on an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing; recent research has found the average annual cost of health, justice and welfare services utilised by people who are homeless (typically more than the average Australian) is nearly $30,000 per person.

Homelessness is an issue that I have really grappled with during my time on council. What is the best way for a council like Fremantle to respond to this growing challenge?

On the other hand some retailers want the Fremantle Council to push any visible signs of homelessness out of Fremantle including street begging which is often associated with it (although I am told many of Freo’s beggars are not actually homeless but that is another debate for another time).

But I am strongly of the view that the out of mind, out of sight approach of moving homeless people on and reducing services for them doesn’t solve the problem – it merely moves it down road.

So I strongly support the City of Fremantle approach of funding and running some important services including the Warrawee (a women’s shelter), the Fremantle legal service, etc I often feel like there also needs to be a more holistic response that tackles the root causes and helps these people to get back on their feet.

I am increasingly convinced by international evidence that says you actually need to provide stable housing FIRST to tackle the issue.  Sue Ash the CEO of UnitingCare West also  said at the launch this week that most homeless people often become mental unwell after as few as six weeks on the streets.

Giving people in need a safe and secure place to rebuild their lives is the essential foundation if we are to deal with disadvantage and what often appears to be a growing gap between the haves and have nots in this rich state and city of ours. Rob Schlyecher puts it this way: “Simply put, our society cannot expect homeless people to just go away. They need a safe place to sleep and a base from which to stabilize their lives.”

homelessness in WA

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

12 Responses to Homeless Persons Week – a Freo perspective

  1. Well said Brad!
    “Out of mind out of sight” does not work, it isn’t ethical and just down right horrid!
    Council, along with stake-holders need to get together and see what can be done. It is in everyones best interests. No single policy, government department, organisation or program can tackle or solve the increasingly complex social problems we face as a society. The approach calls for multiple organisations or entities from different sectors to abandon their own agenda in favour of a common agenda, shared measurement and a plan of action, all putting in the same effort to make homelessness a thing of the past! It is our ethical duty!

  2. Nonie Jekabsons says:

    Agree it is very important to keep this problem visible & not sweep it under the carpet. A recent news article about homeless people in the Perth CBD inadvertently highlighted that in WA motor vehicles have better housing than a fair proportion of the world’s population. Strange priorities. Perhaps some of these spaces which are unused at night time could have ablution facilities, drinking water fountains etc for the use of transient people.

  3. Murray Slavin says:

    Thanks for the perspective … it’s timely and welcome. However, there’s always a great deal of rhetoric about this issue but it seems little action to tackle the problem. Many in the community would make a contribution – financial or in kind – if there was a combination of leadership and a tangible project. I don’t think many of us enjoy seeing anyone trying to sleep on a sports pavilion concrete slab when the temperature’s as low as a couple of degrees. In the end a society is judged by the way it deals with its weak and needy.

  4. Lesley says:

    Support Fremantle’s approach. Keeping asking and exploring ways to reduce homelessness.

  5. Michael Piu says:

    Thanks Brad for highlighting this important issue. As you know its a key interest of mine (though I make these comments at a personal rather than official level). I am encouraged by your comments and those of people who have responded. Particularly so around the need for a coordinated response. We in fact are quite lucky in Fremantle to be hosting an Australian-first community-based collective impact model to plan for and address key social issues through the South West Metropolitan Partnership Forum (www.swmpf.org.au) which I am privileged to Chair, hosted by St Patrick’s Community Support Centre (www.stpats.com.au). This brings together Commonwealth, State and Local Government (including the City of Fremantle), non-government organisations, business, philanthropy and community members in our region. Whilst its early days there have been some positive developments through this group, and with strong support across the community it could be an ideal mechanism to collectively address “wicked” social issues such as homelessness and give all members of our community better opportunities to live independent and fulfilled lives. Let’s not forget that homelessness, rough sleeping, and begging, are all in effect symptoms and not the “disease” – underlying these are a complex range of issues such as inter-generational disadvantage, mental health issues, drug and alcohol dependence, family brake down, educational and vocational barriers, and so forth. Homelessness and its manifestations therefore can only be effectively addressed by addressing its underlying causes, which requires a whole-of-community response

  6. Great responses everyone!

  7. Jane Bremmer says:

    Here are some practical ideas that are working…..CoF could implement if there was the will.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/30/homelessness-cities-ingenuity_n_5545477.html?ir=Impact

  8. If the City really wants to address homelessness, it has to develop a public housing policy. It did have one once … not sure what happened to the houses.

    I attended the homeless housing conference today and it’s clear the problem’s not just one of provision of shelter, but requiring many forms of care including physical and mental. That’s available close to the heart of the City. I know the contiguous reaction will be ‘not in my back yard’ – not dissimilar to the City’s and retailer’s interest in getting them out of the city centre.

    Based on numbers I saw today at the conference, I think the maximum cost of accommodation is about $350K and rent of about $350/week. The biggest obstacle to this is the cost of inner urban land. If the City could dredge through its property register it might find some that’s idle … developed or not. If it’s not, housing can be provided within the budget. If there is already a building on the site, it can be converted. There are many of us in the industry who would be pleased to help explore these options.

    In the end it’s a matter of putting our money where our mouth is. As a community (aka the City) it will require our economic support.

  9. Diana Ryan says:

    This is a really fine post, Brad – fundamental.

    I like Murray Slavin’s comment about dredging the property register.

    Did you have an opportunity to “convert to rent”, Ludlam’s idea? Perhaps within local councils is where this initiative will have the most momentum.

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