Homeless rethink

PERTH city council will take a more comprehensive approach to homelessness under a new 18-month plan adopted by councillors on Tuesday.

Previously the council’s approach to homelessness has been a little ad hoc, and often focused on stopping homeless people from begging, attracting criticism from support agencies.

Under the new plan the city will have a “housing first” strategy, in partnership with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness, starting in March.

And from June the council will evaluate properties to find potential places to expand affordable accommodation.

They’ll also connect with service providers, as there’s a lot of groups doing good work but without much coordination so there’s overlap and wastage, so the new “interagency forum” launching in April will help make services more efficient.

City of Perth staff will also undergo cultural awareness training over the next six months (relationships between some Aboriginal groups and the City of Perth have been strained in recent years. They hit an all time low in 2013 when the council was trying to shift Aboriginal activists off Matagarup/Heirisson Island and council staff confiscated a sacred stone used in women’s ceremonies, not realising what it was. It was eventually returned with an apology).

Community education is also planned from June, to help “change community perceptions of homelessness and focus efforts to ending homelessness in WA”.

Lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi says; “It is a significant start in creating a higher level of understanding of the homelessness issue, and provides a proposed direction in developing effective agency partnerships to establish long-term strategies to tackle homelessness.

“A raft of diverse support services and accommodation options are required, as well as a coordinated approach across the human services delivery sector to meet the individual needs of those experiencing homelessness.

“However, it is important to recognise that homelessness is a complicated issue that cannot simply be remedied at a local government level, and requires support from the state and Commonwealth.”

Part of the new plan also involves working more closely with the state government. Perth state MP John Carey welcomed the new policy: Homelessness had been one of the top issues raised at his Perth City Summit forum last year, and he said the issue needed greater cooperation and coordination.

“I strongly welcome this… this is a great start and the next stage will be calling together a key group of those not-for-profit providers that work in the city, the City of Perth, and the state government.”

Mr Carey said coordinating the many groups would be key: “Part of the problem is we are seeing a proliferation of new, smaller groups,” he says, and while they have “good intentions, it’s not addressing long-term issues” and it can duplicate and even confound the work of larger established agencies with more experience in the field. He says if people want to help, they’re best off donating or volunteering for one of the existing service providers.

The full cost of the city’s new homeless policy will be in the 2017/2018 budget, but it’s already committed to one full-time “community development officer” dedicated to homelessness, and budgeted $97,800 for staff cultural awareness training and a study on crisis and transitional accommodations.

by DAVID BELL

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