Homelessness Week is a national week to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face, and the action needed to end homelessness not just manage it.
On Tuesday, 3 August Shelter WA held the official launch of this year’s theme in WA: Housing Solutions to End Homelessness. This chosen theme aims to highlight the solutions that can be adopted, in both the short-term and long-term and to also take a moment to reflect, reground and look at where to from here.
Shelter WA and the WA Alliance to End Homelessness partnered together for the launch which was opened by the Hon. Simone McGurk MLA, Minister for Child Protection; Women’s Interests; Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence; Community Services.
Ahead of the main opening, Aunty Marie Taylor conducted the Welcome to Country, and relayed a funny story from when she was a branch manager at the Department of Housing. A good laugh was had by all as we welcomed to Whadjuk Noongar country.
Shelter WA Chairperson Kieran Wong took over after the Welcome to Country to give an overview of Homelessness Week and its theme. He thanked the weeks sponsors Fleetwood Australia, Beyond Bank and the Department of Communities.
In touching on the theme Mr Wong referred to new independent polling commissioned by Shelter WA which showed that “housing and rent affordability, and homelessness are among the leading issues that Perth citizens would like to see the state government spend more of its budget on”.
Watch the event here
In her opening speech the Hon. Simone McGurk MLA, referenced the many government initiatives currently underway to end homelessness. Before doing so she acknowledged the importance of service providers.
“You play an important role.”
“You play an important role in helping the public understand the extent of the problem but also what the solutions are,” Ms McGurk said. “This is a significant problem, and we are embarking on a program of reform, this is not a reactive response, we are actually looking how we can properly use the data and the evidence and the research to make a difference to our homelessness service system.”
The Minister then touched on a number of initiatives currently underway since the launch of the WA Government’s All Paths Lead to a Home: Western Australia’s 10-Year Strategy on Homelessness 2020–2030.
- Two Common Ground facilities. One in East Perth and one in Mandurah.
Common Ground is a model of permanent, supportive housing in a purpose-built complex, for adults who have experienced chronic homelessness or are low-income earners.
“We recently announced additional funds for the East Perth facility, previously it was going to be about seventy units of accommodation now it will be 112 units,” Ms McGurk said.
- Housing First Implementation
$34.5 million for a Housing First Homelessness Initiative, which extends successful housing-first collective impact approaches to Bunbury, Geraldton and Rockingham.
“We have people working on the ground doing that work and engaging with people and working with them to find accommodation and make sure they are connected with supports.”
- Online Homelessness Services Portal
A reform of the current system to make sure the system is modern and is meeting the needs of both service providers and clients. The detail is being developed in close partnership with service providers.
- Boorloo Bidee Mia
A new 100-bed homelessness facility will open in August 2021. Boorloo Bidee Mia represents ‘Perth pathway to housing’ in Whadjuk Noongar language and the new service has been provided $7.3 million over three years to operate at 300 Wellington Street in Perth. It provides an immediate and culturally appropriate low-barrier accommodation response to rough sleeping in the Perth Central Business District.
Wungening Aboriginal Corporation and Noongar Mia Mia have been awarded a grant of $6.7 million to implement and deliver culturally informed responses.
- Specialist Homelessness Services
“Each year the Department of Communities spends over $100 million dollars on Specialist Homelessness Services,” the Minister said. “This includes family and domestic violence, crisis accommodation and support, homelessness accommodation and support, outreach, housing and tenancy support services.”
- Local Government Partnership Fund
Providing a one-off financial co-contributions towards new initiatives that are identified and led by local governments to respond to and prevent homelessness around Western Australia. Grants ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 will be awarded through four annual funding rounds., with a total of $1.5 million available each year.
The Minister in closing “thanked everyone for their efforts throughout the year” and then officially opened Homelessness Week 2021.
WA Alliance to End Homelessness
The Executive Officer of the WA Alliance to End Homelessness (Alliance) John Berger reflected on the current levels of engagement among service providers.
“If I reflect on where we are today the level of engagement and working together is stronger today than in the past,” he said. “When the Alliance came together, we always knew that homelessness would be a whole of community issue and its ending would be reliant on our capacity to engage and support a whole of community response.”
Mr Berger previewed the 2021 Ending Homelessness in Western Australia Report which would be released in the next session. “It would be fair to say while there has been significant activity … we still have a long way to go and much work ahead of us.”
“Our (the Alliance) focus has been on engagement and communication and connecting projects and the people with what is happening across the community,” Mr Berger said. The results of our report will highlight some of the key challenges we face going ahead and it will continue to inform our work in the community.”
You can read the report here.
Lived Experience Advocate Josh Serafini spent the previous day leading a group of total strangers on his actual life journey while he cycled in and out of homelessness. The tour through the streets of Perth showed where he was forced to sleep rough but was also a chance to see how local community providers are handling the issues which homelessness creates.
Now housed, Josh shared his story and reflected on why ending homelessness was important for so many. Using the tragic example of Noongar woman Alana Garlett who lost her life while sleeping on the streets Josh was visibly pained.
“Homelessness should be illegal.”
“I actually spent a lot of time with her sleeping rough,” he said. “She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. She would always share everything that she had. She used to buy me hats and clothes. She was sitting on the street, and she deserved so much better.
“Homelessness should be illegal. We should be able to house people immediately rather than five years down the track.”
In support of Josh, Margaret King, the Community Development Coordinator at the City of South Perth, and Garry Gower the Family Support Coordinator at Southcare spoke to Josh’s achievements since coming off the streets.
Margaret noted how having advocates like Josh who can assist when homeless people are sleeping rough in the City of Perth community. She cited an example where he willingly met with two homeless people to check on their welfare and to sort out some food to eat. “This is really good for us to have that support,” she said.
Gary touched on the work Josh does in creating meals for the homeless from a kitchen in the George Burnett Leisure Centre in Karawara. “I liked the guy immediately,” Gary said. “We have achieved quite a lot together.
You can read about Josh’s Community Dinners program here.
Three Local Engagement Officers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics were the final speakers of the day.
Alan Connolly, Deborah Ralph and Trish Owen gave an engaging presentation on the importance of the Census and the efforts undertaken to make it the most accurate in terms of counting the homeless.
Read the work they are doing here.
In thanking the Shelter WA team and in wrapping up Kieran Wong set a future challenge for us all. “I would like, in my lifetime, for there to not be a homelessness week,” he said.