Homeless left in the lurch as city locks down again

IT’S been nearly a year since Perth’s first Covid lockdown and the city’s rough sleepers are no better off this time around.

Housing and homelessness advocate Shelter WA says while the streets are empty of workers and shoppers, the lockdown’s triggered a surge in requests from people needing a roof.

“Service providers are being swamped by people who are sleeping rough pleading for accommodation,” Shelter WA CEO Michelle McKenzie said in a statement. “They are fearful and want to know ‘how can I lockdown? Where do I go? What do I do?”

House the Homeless WA, which supported residents in the now-disbanded tent cities in Perth and Fremantle, said this week’s lockdown highlighted and worsened the plight of people living on the streets. 

Tent cities

One hundred homeless people have been offered hotel accommodation following the disbanding of the two tent cities, but 1000 more still sleep rough across the state. 

One of the HTHWA’s spokespeople Betsy Buchanan said: “Once again our most vulnerable are abandoned on empty streets while the rest of us stay safe at home.”

Ms McKenzie congratulated the McGowan government on providing accommodation for some people who were living in the parks, but wants recent initiatives expanded and more investment in social and affordable housing.

“If we are to truly beat this virus and reduce the risk of transmission, all Western Australians need a place to call home … housing is a health response – safe, permanent social and affordable housing is a social vaccine.”

The first of two “Common Ground” housing blocks with on-site services is still a long ways off in Perth – due to start construction in the 2021-2022 financial year. It’ll provide 70  apartments for as long as people need them until permanent housing is available.

The state government also announced this week an extra $6.8m to bring on board the Aboriginal-led Noongar Mia Mia organisation to offer culturally-appropriate help getting people into its Housing First Homelessness Initiative which subsidises rent for 140 properties. 

But Shelter WA’s figures put the number of rough sleepers at 420 in Perth and Fremantle, and up to 1000 across the state. Apart from rough sleepers, about 30,000 people (needing a total of 15,700 houses) are on the waitlist for social housing.

The communities department said it was relying on advice from the chief health officer and health department on supporting rough sleepers during the pandemic.

Protective equipment

“Communities and its sector partners are working closely to prioritise delivery of practical supports to people currently sleeping rough,” acting executive director Glenn Mace said.

This included getting rough sleepers food and protective equipment.

“Each community service organisation is taking an individualised response to managing clients who are currently street present,” Mr Mace said.

“Most centres are continuing services and providing masks to clients as necessary.”

by DAVID BELL and KELLY WARDEN

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