Joint Statement from Community Services Sector – Fremantle Tent City

The following statement calling for an end to the Fremantle ‘tent city’ is expressed jointly by St Patrick’s Community Support Centre; Uniting WA; Wungening Aboriginal Corporation and Ruah Community Services.

Between them, these organisations provide services and support to the thousands of men, women and children who experience homelessness in our community.

The spokesperson for the group is Debra Zanella, CEO of Ruah Community Services.

Around 1,000 people sleep rough in Perth every night and another 8,000 are couch-surfing or staying with friends. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many of those technically homeless onto the streets, and this is predicted to worsen as the State Government’s moratorium on rent increases ends in March.

Homelessness in Western Australia

Nobody was, or is, under any illusion about the seriousness of the homelessness issue in Western Australia.

We fear that our well-meaning community is at risk of falling under the illusion that the Fremantle ’tent city’ is somehow a positive response that will lead to better outcomes for people who are experiencing homelessness.

Sadly, we believe this could be misguided and even dangerous.

Increasing Risk

Bringing together people who are facing hardship in this way increases risk to the very people whom we are all hoping to support. The gathering together of large numbers of people with different trauma events and a range of different vulnerabilities into a small area without qualified support is potentially a recipe for disaster – and doesn’t help in the longer-term. It also increases the risk to the wider community.

Uniting WA CEO, Amanda Hunt said people who were camping there, because they thought they would be safe, have already been victims of violence, and targeted by criminals. Fremantle’s ‘tent city’ puts already vulnerable people at increasing risk of sexual assault, fights and intimidating behaviour.

Housing First Approach

Service providers and the State Government already support a ‘housing-first’ approach, however there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution for homelessness. People need appropriate housing, but they also need access to a range of support services to address their often-complex histories of trauma and to help them make positive, sustainable changes in their lives.

These essential services, which are proven to help people on their journey to exit the cycle of chronic homelessness, include help with ID and documentation, emergency relief, financial and legal aid, trauma counselling, help to address substance abuse and treatment of chronic health conditions.

The notion that simply buying or building a house for every person sleeping rough would somehow in and of itself end homelessness once and for all is unfounded and unrealistic.

Evidence-based Solutions

We are grateful for the goodwill and the philanthropy of people who have so far felt that Fremantle’s ‘tent city’ will make a difference.

We are saying now: The only difference ‘tent city’ is making is to divert much-needed resources away from real work towards long-term sustainable change.

Service providers are committed to working with the community and Government towards evidence-based solutions aimed at helping people exit homelessness for good and achieve quality of life.

Among these solutions is the WA State Government’s 10-Year Strategy on Homelessness 2020-2030, which brings together multiple agencies to address the complex issue of rough sleeping using evidence-based approaches to provide stable long-term housing and service support.