Shelter WA & the WA Alliance to End Homelessness hosted a forum with the seven candidates who hope to be the next City of Perth Lord Mayor.
Facilitated by journalist Tim Gossage, the Ending Homelessness Forum successfully kept the issue of homelessness, one of the city’s biggest issues firmly on the election agenda. More than 80 people attended in person and another 80 Zoom participants watched the proceedings live.
“We have an opportunity now more than ever to work together to provide safe, supportive and stable housing for everyone in our communities.” – Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Sandy Verschoor.
After a moving Welcome to Country, the Lord Mayor of Adelaide and Chair of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors (CCCLM) Sandy Verschoor spoke to the candidates about the critical role local government plays in ending homelessness.
“We have an opportunity now more than ever to work together to provide safe, supportive and stable housing for everyone in our communities,” Ms Verschoor said. “As the future mayor of Perth, you will be in a position to work with us at the CCCLM and within your own community to reduce homelessness and provide meaningful support to those who need it most.”
In an at times emotional speech, Lived Experience Advocate Josh Serafini recalled how being homeless was both the worst and best thing that had ever happened to him.
“You get to see an array of things,” he said. “You see things from a different perspective that only homeless people get to see from. It is a scary time because everyone is so vulnerable. I lost friends due to murder, suicide, drug overdoses and some with natural causes.
“I was stabbed six times, I suffered a punctured lung, punctured liver … and was in hospital for over three months trying to recover.
In a passionate plea Mr Serafini, reminded the candidates he would “hold them to what they say” and urged them to “please take ending homelessness seriously”.
The CEO of Uniting WA, the organisation behind the Tranby Centre a crisis support hub located in the CBD pointed out that as a community “we are here to change the story of homelessness”.
Amanda Hunt referenced a moment when a group of community service leaders got together to change the narrative on homelessness. “We realised as community service providers we were holding onto our patch,” she said. “It was decided we would change the story. We formed the Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness. All of you here today want to be part of the story of hope, hopefulness not homelessness. One of the things that fills me with despair is that we are walking past people on our streets. We are letting people sleep rough.
“We need strategies, we’ve got strategies. We need houses, let’s make houses available to people sleeping rough on our streets. This morning two (homeless) people died. Those were people who were loved. They are brothers. They are family members. They are members of our community who have a contribution to make.”
In addressing the candidates directly Ms Hunt emphasised the contribution they would make.
“Whether you are elected as mayor or not each of you are here because you have influence. You have power, it doesn’t matter what your job is. We will ensure that together we will end homelessness and that is my invitation to you.”
In the second half of the forum each candidate was invited to address the audience. Each were allocated time for their presentation followed by questions either through Zoom or from the floor.
Sandy Anghie will throw her support behind extending Common Ground.
“The Common Ground project announced by the government earlier this year is a step forward but with only 35 of those for people experiencing homelessness,” she said.
“We need further sites, further funding, to house the hundreds of people currently experiencing homelessness. The government is looking for shovel-ready projects right now to create jobs to help us out of COVID, this is a project which needs to be prioritised.”
Ms Anghie also committed to fund an extended trial of the safe night spaces for rough sleepers which was trialled during Homelessness Week 2019.
Di Bain if elected will support a By-Name List for Perth.
“I will look for buildings, city assets, beds, hostels, hotels to provide a safe night’s sleep,” she said. I will work on ensuring that people who are in tents are quickly afforded a bed and a shower. I will trial a shuttle bus to help take people to the services they require.”
Ms Bain committed to be a “full-time, inclusive and committed lord mayor to ending homelessness”.
Mark Gibson said he would provide more housing.
“We need more housing and we need it now, and there is no reason why we don’t have it,” he said. “The only way to fix homelessness is to provide housing.”
He used the forum to announce he had identified a vacant backpacker facility in the CBD. In a partnership with Street Friends WA Mr Gibson will sign a lease with the owners to turn the site into transitional accommodation with discounted rent.
Brodie McCulloch highlighted the need for the City of Perth to do more around short-term interventions. “They are very important,” he said.
“The City of Perth can definitely do more … there’s a one-point-nine-million-dollar budget approved for this next financial year to support outreach and homeless service providers. But really, we need to look at the systemic issues that are leaving us with this increasing issue in Perth. Those systemic issues are really what I can bring to this role. Having been through a Churchill Fellowship looking at innovative models to scale social impact,” he said. “I have been the recipient of a lot of work to be able to create that change.”
“My role is to make sure that I am a voice, a tireless voice,” Bruce Reynolds said.
“Ending homeless is a fantastic ideal … if we can do it or not that is for debate, but what we can do is certainly provide shelter and that could look a million different ways for a thousand different people.”
In referencing two audience members Mr Reynolds continued.
“Some people just need like Gary who sleeps a little bit down in Aberdeen Street from me, he just needs somewhere to lock up, somewhere to be safe for the night so he can go about his business the next day. Someone like Josh with a future he’s capable and can service a home and can live in that environment.
“I will always be there for anyone.”
If elected Tim Schwass will repurpose the mayoral car and will give it to Shelter WA.
“Here is the car, here is the fuel card, its insured, make sure you get it serviced, make sure someone’s got a driver’s licence to drive it,” he said. “We need 1,000 beds straight off. They (the homeless) are not all going to be in the same place they will be spread around.
“We are not spending enough on prevention and prevention is providing people with homes.”
In responding to a question from the floor Mr Schwass said he will advocate that the City of Perth provide a proper building for homeless people where “there will be coordination … so that people needing accommodation will go through a funnel where everyone will know what is going on.”
Basil Zempilas thanked the service providers in the room who had opened their doors to him.
“It has been a journey of education and discovery for me,” he said. “There were things that I needed to learn because there were things quite frankly, I was not up to speed with prior. There are not people on the street who choose to be there, that was a misapprehension that I was under.
“I am not an expert in this field, but I know many of you are experts in this field. So, what I can offer you is me. I can offer you the connection that I might be able to give you to some of those service providers or indeed some of those government officials that you can’t get the answers from. My commitment to you is to stand with whoever needs to be stood alongside to get change made.”
He committed to bringing Queensland charity Beddown to the City of Perth. The group takes spaces that are left empty at night and turns them into pop-up accommodation.
Candidates are Listening
At the conclusion of the forum Shelter WA Chief Executive Officer, Michelle Mackenzie said it was clear the candidates are learning.
“They are listening and meeting with our members which is very important,” she said.
“It is pretty simple to solve homelessness. We need good social and affordable housing and a great homelessness services system to support people who need that support. We can end homelessness and it is so important the City of Perth works with us to achieve that goal. The Perth Lord Mayor has a critical role in working with state government, federal government and our sector and people with lived experience.”
In conclusion each of the seven candidates were asked to sign a pledge to End Homelessness in the City of Perth. The Executive Officer of the WA Alliance to End Homelessness, John Berger outlined the meaning of the pledge to the audience.
“We encourage you to look at the evidence,” Mr Berger said.
“Homelessness requires a whole of community response. We need the lived experience, we need services, we need government we need local government, it is all our responsibility. A systems approach is the way that’s been used nationally and internationally to end homelessness.
“Do those things that work and abandon the things that don’t work. We seek your commitment and to pledge to work with us to achieve this outcome.”
You can watch the entire forum.
To read the WA Alliance to End Homelessness Strategy click here.