Night space trial for women

THE old Rod Evans community centre at 160 Hay Street will be transformed into a “safe night space” for homeless women for a two year trial – but they won’t be provided with a bed.

Perth city council will spend $575,000 to refit the building and is requesting $4.5 million of state funding to help run the centre and another planned for the future. 

It’ll open by February 2021 but is only intended to be a short-term solution until more state government accommodation is ready. Beds aren’t provided under the safe night space model – just kitchen, laundry, toilets, a tv area and a quiet space.

“Safe Night Spaces are not a long-term solution,” a council report states. “They are an interim solution which providse basic shelter and safety for people who are sleeping rough and decrease the risk of further trauma that may be experienced with sleeping rough. They also assist people to become more ‘service ready’ for permanent housing solutions and support services.”

Thin band-aid

House the Homeless WA, an advocacy group which has been working with the rough sleepers at Lord Street’s “Tent City” released a statement saying the plan’s not enough.

“Without stable, secure accommodation and a supported transition into housing, this proposal is a thin band-aid that fails to address the immediate crisis.

“One thousand people will sleep on the streets of Perth tonight. Some 50 people currently seek shelter at Tent City in East Perth, where they have been stranded throughout the election campaign and are now abandoned. 

“Assaults, abuse and violence from predators are increasing. Despite many proposed solutions during the lord mayor campaign, vulnerable people are still sleeping in tents without basic security.

“Meanwhile, an empty backpackers’ hostel with 50 beds sits ready and vacant in the heart of the city. Identified as a potential solution during the election campaign, it is available now as a supported, transitional accommodation solution to the problem blowing up at Tent City.”

Mayoral candidate Mark Gibson proposed that idea, saying he’d pursue it whether he won or lost, but it needs an estimated $50,000 in start up costs and ongoing funding for rent, staff and provisions.

HtHWA’s statement said “at a fraction of the cost of ‘safer nights’, Tent City could be solved tomorrow as part of a culturally appropriate and comprehensive program that could subsequently be applied more widely to rough sleeping in Perth. Wraparound supports, funding and a viable, available site are ready to roll out tomorrow – a solution to a problem that is set to explode in the heart of the city, unless we act now.”

Cr Liam Gobbert wanted to defer the safe night space idea. He’d recently walked the streets as part of the rough sleeper count along with councillors Clyde Bevan, Viktor Ko and Brent Fleeton to observe the issue first hand, and said they should carry out consultation before embarking on this. 

Cr Fleeton also backed deferral because there was no assurance they’d secure money from the McGowan government to run the place, and he wanted more information about getting people to and from the site and security measures. 

“I don’t want to rush into doing something for perception’s sake only,” he said. “It’s a very complex issue and it’s a state government issue.”

“Are we really getting value for money for a safe night space which is not a housing option? These people will not be sleeping there,” he said.

But the deferral was outvoted 7-2. 

Mr Zempilas said the city could afford to fund the centre for one year if the state government didn’t come through.

The women’s space is meant to open by February 2021 and is considered the most urgent of four safe night space categories needed. 

The next priority is for an all-genders space by mid-2021, and the other identified needs are for a youth centre (16-25) and one that is focussed on cultural needs of Aboriginal people.

by DAVID BELL

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