Pan Pacific offers homeless lifeline

Pan Pacific Hotel Perth general manager Rob Weeden.

HOMELESS people most at risk from Coronavirus will stay at the Pan Pacific Perth under a “Hotels With Heart” program.

The WA government is funding the trial and the hotel has given them a steep discount on the bill (about half what they’d make 

if the rooms were populated 

by conference attendees who’d otherwise be in town).

Communicable diseases often spread rapidly through homeless populations due to group living condition and being unable to isolate: US numbers show they’re 20 times more likely to have tuberculosis than homed people.

Pan Pacific Hotels Group managing director Rob Weeden said he’d been wanting to do something to help homeless folk for a while, saying “some of the solutions of ‘just get rid of them’ don’t wash with me”. 

Midway through last week he put the feelers out to a few contacts, saying “I can help people now, let’s set up a program”.

He says with Ruah, the Department of Communities, Anglicare and Uniting Care West they were able to put the program together.

While praising social workers as the real “heroes” of the fight against Coronavirus, Mr Weedon said he was incredibly proud of how staff had accepted their new guests.

“I’ve got staff saying ‘I want to do lunch for the VIPs today, I want to do dinner for them’.” 

“They’re funny, they’re quirky, they’re grateful,” he says of the hotel’s new guests.

“I get choked up when I talk about it.

“They’re just happy to be safe, they’re happy they’re not out on the streets.”

The hotel also has some people in self-isolation after flying back from overseas or interstate, and Mr Weeden says 95 per cent of the travellers and 100 per cent of the homeless guests have been great.

Communities has referred the first 20 or so guests based on who’s most vulnerable, accounting for age and secondary illnesses.

Mr Weeden says he’s happy to have more: “We’ve got capacity for up to 120. The key thing is we’re not fairweather friends; we’ve gone into this eyes wide open and we’ve committed to doing this for six months.”

He says he hopes it’ll help people get back on their feet and find long-term housing, and says he’d love to employ a couple. The theory behind the WA governments’ interim homelessness plan is that stable accommodation often acts as a circuit-breaker and gives people a path to employment and housing, since it’s hard to plan for those when surviving day-to-day.  

He says state Perth Labor MP John Carey needs some kudos for helping to get it sorted (and for being an open ear to his various grumbles over the years about what Adelaide Terrace needs to turn it from an “Old Kent Road” to a Mayfair).

Mr Carey says “this is incredible positive leadership by Pan Pacific.

“We’ve seen a lot of bad stuff about hoarding in supermakerts, and I’ve personally been shocked by the behaviour of some younger citizens who’ve still been in groups… but this shows us the best in humanity.”

‘A start’

The Hotels with Heart trial has been welcomed by ShelterWA but they’re calling for more action by governments to get everyone off the streets.

CEO Michelle Mackenzie put out a statement saying the trial was “fantastic” but “we need to get people off the streets now.

“Over 9,000 Western Australians have no place to call home and 1,000 are rough sleepers. Official advice is to stay home and self-isolate, however this is simply impossible. We need additional solutions for homelessness and housing services across WA.”

by DAVID BELL

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