We know how to handle a crisis so let’s fix homelessness

This opinion piece appeared in The West Australian on Friday, 5 March. It is written by Michelle Mackenzie, CEO at Shelter WA.

WA knows how to respond to a crisis. Immediately. And with a plan.

Barely a month ago we thought we’d seen it all when the pandemic barged its way back into our lives.

A Single Case

Before Premier Mark McGowan even took the podium at that press conference word got out, and so did the masks. A single case snapped us into lockdown, as WA delivered where the rest of the world dithered.

“WA knows how to respond to a crisis.”

Almost immediately, though, a compound crisis, with terrifying bushfires dropping us in a dual emergency. Yet again, strength, decision and planning carried the day. Those who could, left. Containment lines held and evacuation orders were complied with. Those who stayed, defended, supported by a leviathan effort from our emergency services.

Yet even as we emerged there were reminders of the first crisis that dominated this new year in WA.

Fremantle Tent City

Others were in hotels, fortunate to be off the streets. By closing the camp in Fremantle the Government dealt decisively with the immediate homelessness problem. But this is a crisis a long time in the making in WA, and a few weeks in a hotel won’t fix it.

It’ll take more than that to stop the spread of a homelessness crisis that already leaves more than 1,000 people on the streets and strands  more than 15,000 families on WA’s social housing waitlist.

Dual Housing Crisis

We are also in a dual housing crisis, where the rental vacancy rate is well below one per cent, the lowest in decades. This crisis will worsen when the moratorium on rents and evictions lifts at the end of this month. WA is facing a second wave of homelessness when this dam wall breaks. We need a comprehensive plan and an immediate response. WA is uniquely placed to deliver both.

We need our next government to create 2,500 new social houses a year. Decisively reducing the waitlist for social housing will deliver a big reduction in homelessness.

Getting everyone off the streets into secure housing with support services is a matter of life or death for our most vulnerable families, and a question of basic security and strength for the entire WA community.

Social housing is also a major economic stimulus as part of our ongoing COVID recovery, delivering tens of thousands of quality WA jobs and returning three times the investment to the WA economy.

“We need to create 2,500 new social houses a year.”

That’s a sensible, responsible long-term plan to end homelessness in WA. A plan that can be done in partnership with industry and the community sector.

We also need immediate relief, not just for our most vulnerable but for the thousands of renters worried about where they will live at the end of this month.

We are calling on all parties to support the spot purchase of 500 homes a year from the open market for WA families in need right now.


And with the end of the looming moratorium we need a commitment from government to support people to stay in their homes through
appropriate funding and resources for landlords and tenants to provide long-term security of affordable rents, and adequate emergency relief funding to support people facing homelessness.

Successive governments have lacked the resolve and the focus to deal with this ongoing public health emergency in WA. The latest polling shows the community is ready for action.

State Election

Homelessness is one of the top four issues the community would like the State Government to focus more upon. Two-thirds say it will influence our vote at the State election. Ninety per cent of us will support homelessness and housing initiatives that create new jobs, stimulate the economy and protect our most vulnerable West Australians.

“Successive governments have lacked the resolve and the focus to deal with this ongoing public health emergency in WA.”

Housing keeps us safe and strong. Housing creates jobs. Investment in housing is affordable, achievable and sensible.

We need to roll out a WA social and affordable housing program, to unlock a stable, secure future for every West Australian.