Rough sleepers left behind during WA’s emergency lockdown
3 February 2021 at 5:32 pm
Homelessness groups are urging the government to look towards longer-term housing solutions
Western Australian homelessness groups say they are struggling to cope with the surge in demand from rough sleepers needing a safe place to sleep during the state’s five-day emergency lockdown.
On Sunday night, parts of WA went into a strict five-day lockdown after a Perth security guard tested positive with coronavirus.
Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie told Pro Bono News that since then, housing and homelessness organisations have been inundated with people who are sleeping rough in search of a safe place to stay.
“People are coming into shelters and calling hotlines saying they don’t have anywhere to live and lockdown in. It’s been really heartbreaking,” Mackenzie said.
She said that while community services had been working closely with government agencies to deliver extra services in a safe way – like providing free masks to all rough sleepers – more had to be done to ensure people without homes were safe.
“What isn’t great is when services can’t find accommodation because of lockdown and places such as hostels that might have been an option before are not taking any new clients,” she said.
This isn’t the first time that homelessness groups in the state have struggled to find accommodation for people experiencing homelessness. During the height of lockdown last year, a trial program to house homeless individuals in Perth hotels was abandoned after more than half of the 20 people given accommodation chose to leave early.
WA Minister for Community Services Simone McGurk said at the time that there were talks of extending the program, however efforts to house rough sleepers were wound back because COVID-19 did not spread far in the state.
Mackenzie drew attention to the differences between how the WA state government supported people sleeping rough compared with the rest of the country.
“We saw last year that there was a policy position [by the state government] to not accommodate people who are sleeping rough,” Mackenzie said.
“And that’s very different to what happened over in the eastern parts of Australia, where there was this huge effort to put people who are sleeping into hotels and provide services.”
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
But Mackenzie said that you only had to look at the government’s recent handling of the Tent City residents in Perth and Fremantle to see what was actually possible.
“The government was able to move really quickly and successfully provide immediate accommodation for 100 people in hotels, as well as support services,” she said.
“So we know we can do it because we’ve demonstrated in the last months that we can do it with the political will and the resourcing.”
Broken housing system the core of the problem
She said while services were working to find permanent accommodation for those currently in hotel accommodation, the “sticking point” was that there were not enough homes for them to go into.
“We’ve got 15,700 households on the social housing waitlist which is just a major challenge,” she said.
“Other jurisdictions have acted. We urgently urge the WA government to expand recent initiatives and increase investment into social and affordable housing, so nobody is left behind.”