‘It’s just horrible’: Community sector dismayed by homeless ‘tent cities’ in WA
15 January 2021 at 5:31 pm
“Western Australia is a really wealthy state and we have people living in tents. It’s just extraordinary. It’s so wrong.”
Community groups are calling on the Western Australian government to bolster investment in social housing and homelessness services, to remedy a crisis that’s left homeless people living in makeshift “tent cities”.
Around 70 people are currently living in tents in the centre of Fremantle, after a group of volunteers from the community set up the camp on Boxing Day.
It was established as a temporary food and shelter option for vulnerable people at a time when homelessness services were reduced, but remains in place with no end date in sight.
There are several other tent cities in WA, including one in East Perth, and community groups say their existence reflects a desperate desire from vulnerable people to find stable housing.
Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie told Pro Bono News that while it was admirable that the camp had been set up by concerned members of the community, it was not a long-term solution.
“The problem with people living in tents is it’s not sustainable, it’s not safe, and it’s not necessarily linked to the service system that can provide a long-term, good permanent outcome for a person,” Mackenzie said.
“We need to link the volunteers to professional services so people who are homeless get the support and the permanent housing that they need.”
Mackenzie said the key causes of the crisis were a severe lack of social housing and inadequate funding for the homelessness service system. There is currently a shortfall of 39,200 social and 19,300 affordable homes across the state.
She said WA needed a “serious injection of funds into the social housing system”.
“We need 2,500 homes each year for the next four years,” she said.
“We also need some investment into the homelessness services system. This government has injected some funds, which has been really welcome, but we just need more.
“And really without the homes, it’s really hard to deliver the government’s agenda of a housing first response to [homelessness].”
Mackenzie said she struggled to comprehend the state’s homelessness crisis, adding that action must be taken urgently.
“It’s just horrible. I live in Fremantle and I’ve been down there… WA is a really wealthy state and we have people living in tents. It’s just extraordinary. It’s so wrong,” she said.
The Imagined Futures Housing and Homelessness Group – which includes specialist housing, homelessness and other community groups – has been coordinating responses to the increasing levels of street homelessness in WA.
Imagined Futures executive officer Leigh Sinclair thanked the Fremantle camp volunteers for their efforts supporting the homelessness community but said they should now support local specialist services which have professional experience handling homelessness.
“For the generous and caring people who have been supporting the camp, the best thing they can do to help end homelessness is to get behind the work of the range of specialist support services working in the Fremantle community,” Sinclair said.
This sentiment was echoed by WA Community Services Minister Simone McGurk, who told Pro Bono News: “The most constructive way that the community can help vulnerable people to get the assistance they need is to direct them to experienced homelessness service providers.”
McGurk said the WA Department of Communities had been working with homelessness service providers to better understand the needs of people at the Fremantle camp.
She said work was under way to ensure that everyone at the camp who needs crisis accommodation and support is offered it.
“The safety of the community is the primary factor when considering the future of the camp,” she said.
“There have been reports of several minor incidents at the site, which is why the Department of Communities and funded service providers are working to link people at the camp who are receptive to being supported into temporary accommodation with short-term housing as quickly as possible.”