Western Australia out in the cold when it comes to protecting rough sleepers

Progressive thinking and swift action by authorities and community groups has put a roof over the head of thousands of rough sleepers on the eastern seaboard during the COVID 19 crisis, whilst their counterparts in Western Australia have been left out in the cold.

This Homelessness Week, Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie is calling on the West Australian and Commonwealth Governments to match the efforts of leaders in Victoria and NSW to find immediate accommodation, service supports and pathways to permanent housing for people forced to live on the streets.

She said WA was kicking goals keeping the virus contained, but the eastern states were leading the way when it came to immediate humanitarian efforts for people sleeping rough.

“Incredibly, innovation and a genuine desire for change by both government and business is significantly contributing to ending homelessness in the eastern states, proving that by working together we can end homelessness,” she said.

In Victoria, the state government has invested $150 million to house and support  people who were sleeping rough in hotel accommodation until long term housing solutions can be found.

“This is the kind of leadership we need to see across the whole country,” Ms Mackenzie said. The Commonwealth has done nothing to invest in social housing or homelessness services during the pandemic and must step up – ending homelessness is a joint responsibility.

She said ending homelessness is possible with  increased investment in social housing supply and homelessness services. We absolutely welcome the WA Government’s new investment in social housing and housing first initiatives, but increased investment is needed if we are to end homelessness across WA.

Homelessness is a thing of the past in some places and there is much to learn from success stories such as Finland and some pockets of the United States. Brilliant initiatives in WA such as the 50 lives 50 homes project shows that by taking a Housing First approach, we can end rough sleeping for people who are living on the street.

Ms Mackenzie said there had never been a better time to end homelessness in Australia for once and for all.

Moves around the country to help rough sleepers, such as opening up hotel rooms and renovating derelict properties, had been met with widespread community applause.

“COVID-19 has shown how easy it is to fall into housing insecurity. People are showing increased empathy to people who have nowhere to call home. Coronavirus has taught us all that we need to band together and support each other through adversity because absolutely no one is immune to misfortune,” she said.

“Job loss, poor health and rapid decline in financial stability can happen to anyone leading to poverty. Our leaders, industry and community groups must all now work together to make the changes needed.”

She said making sure nobody had to sleep on the street benefited the whole community, not just those who found themselves out in the cold.

“And while WA is tracking well in relation to COVID, we can see from over East that we can’t become complacent. It is imperative that every single member of our community has a home where they can take refuge and protect themselves if COVID were to escape into the WA community.

Investment in housing people just makes good sense. It creates new jobs in construction and the community sector and provides the foundation for people to contribute to the State’s recovery efforts providing enduring social and economic value for everybody.”


  • It’s estimated over 9,000 West Australians experience homelessness every night.
  • Of these 1,083 people were sleeping rough and 1,208 were under twelve years of age.
  • Specialist Homelessness Services support around 4,300 people every day across WA.
  • 2 out of 3 requests for accommodation via specialist homelessness services are currently unable to be met.
  • 5-per cent of rough sleepers reported that they had been a victim of assault since they had become homeless.
  • The top three reasons people sought assistance from specialist homelessness services were:
    • 42 per cent due to domestic and family violence.
    • 38 per cent due to financial difficulties.
    • 25 per cent housing crisis.
  • There are over 14,000 households on the waitlist for social housing in WA – with an average wait time of over 2.5 years.
  • There are only 1,144 crisis and transitional beds available in WA.
  • Shortfall of 32,000 social homes to meet current need.

To arrange an interview with our CEO Michelle Mackenzie, please contact Heather Bush, Head of Communications and Marketing here.