The State Government’s response to the recent COVID-19 case calling for all West Australians in the Perth, Peel and South West regions to stay home, has been embraced by West Australians.
We all understand the importance of staying home to reduce the risk of transmission and to keep everybody healthy and well. The report of zero cases reported is a testament to our collective efforts. However, hundreds of West Australians who are sleeping rough are unable to lockdown. They have been left feeling afraid, concerned and exposed, putting themselves and potentially all of us all at risk. Tonight, hundreds of people are not in lock-down. They are living on the streets.
We must congratulate Premier Mark McGowan on his leadership and swift and response to keeping Western Australian’s safe during these past few days, and throughout 2020.
However, not everybody is feeling safe. The recent COVID-19 lockdown has triggered a surge in requests to homelessness services for assistance by people experiencing homelessness.
People who sleep rough are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Living on the streets is tough for people’s health and mental health. People experiencing homelessness often have a number of co-existing health conditions. The grim reality is that they are more likely at risk of infection or to die from COVID-19.
This week community services are working collaboratively and in partnership with government to support people experiencing homelessness, and to deliver their services in a safe and healthy way. Despite their best efforts, people remain living on the streets. The government’s response, in partnership with the community sector, to provide rapid accommodation and service support for people who were sleeping in local parks prior to lock-down shows with the will and additional resources we can act quickly to get people off the streets.
There is an opportunity for government to build on this initiative and ensure that nobody is left behind. Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia proactively facilitated hundreds and hundreds of rough sleepers to get off the street during 2020 and fast-tracked funded strategies to then secure longer-term housing options. With COVID a lingering threat if the WA Government were to expand recent initiatives, we could rapidly accommodate people who are sleeping rough and provide support to them during this period, and beyond. This will reduce the risk of transmission. It is the right thing to do.
Hearing people speak about the impact of homelessnes on their lives is heartbreaking. The recent outpouring of compassion for people living on the streets shows that the community does care for people doing it tough. Everybody understands the importance of a home to stay healthy and well. If we are to beat COVID-19 we need a common-sense approach which includes everybody having a place to isolate and to call home.
We should be proud that Western Australia has a first-class homelessness strategy based on the principles of Housing First. We know what we need to do to end homelessness. We need services, and we need homes. New initiatives that grew from the strategy such as Common Ground Facilities which will provide stable and supported permanent accommodation for people who are homelessness will take time to build. So too the implementation of Housing First initiatives. However, whilst these are in development, we need a rapid response.
Co-ordination of effort and new investment will enable us to provide immediate accommodation and support for people to get off the streets. And we must make sure that this isn’t a short-term fix, using this opportunity as they did in other states to provide a pathway towards a permanent housing solution. We must get ahead of the game and ahead of this disease by increasing investment into social and affordable housing and services.
It is estimated that there are over 9,000 people every night across WA who experience homelessness. This includes over 1,000 people who sleep rough across our great state. Every day over 4,100 people are supported by specialist homeless services to meet the basic needs that many of us take for granted such as showering and sitting down and having a meal. People live on the streets because they have no choice. Others are couch-surfing, living with relatives or in their cars as there is nowhere else for them to go. With over 15,700 households on the wait-list for social housing, and a private rental market with no homes affordable to people on income support, where do people live?
Housing, a Response to COVID-19
We know the difference having a home makes to people’s lives. Housing is the foundation for health and wellbeing, educational opportunities, social connection and employment prospects. Housing keeps us healthy and well. Housing is a health response to COVID-19.
When people experiencing homelessness are asked what they want, it is generally a home. We need our housing and homelessness crisis treated with the same resolve and common-sense applied to the pandemic. We urge the McGowan government to build on the bold leadership they have shown in response to COVID-19. If we are all in this together, for all of us to stay healthy and well and to beat this disease, everybody must have a place to call home.
Michelle Mackenzie | CEO, Shelter WA