PERTH lord mayor Basil Zempilas says the state government’s 100-bed Boorloo Bidee Mia homelessness facility on Wellington Street was “perhaps … not fully thought out” and isn’t meeting a need for crisis accommodation.
Speaking at a Parliamentary inquiry into homelessness services, Mr Zempilas said BBM took too long to set up, continues to operate below capacity, and wasn’t providing shelter to people unable to squeeze into already stretched services.
“Perhaps two facilities each with say a 50-person capacity would have been better, or maybe four facilities with a 25-person capacity,” Mr Zempilas said.
“That is what the expert advice has been to us; smaller facilities have a better chance of being successful.”
The lord mayor said the city’s own safe night space for women, which is in a two-year trial, had helped women into transitional or permanent housing, while some had been diverted into rehabilitation or antenatal services.
He said the city had been trying to sell the night shelter concept to other inner-city mayors and CEOs in the hope they would consider establishing their own to take some of the homelessness pressure off the CBD, but hadn’t yet approached homelessness minister John Carey to kick that idea along.
Mr Zempilas also called for better coordination of existing service providers so the afternoon drop-out when most closed their doors wouldn’t be so dramatic.
“What happens, hypothetically speaking, to the gentleman who at 3.30pm today is camped out on the corner of William Street on the Esplanade.
“Where does he go? Who attends to him and asks ‘are you alright? Would you like us to take you somewhere safe?’
“And if the answer were ‘yes, I need some help, or I would like somewhere to go’, does that place exist? Is there room at that place?
“The service providers work hard and are populated by excellent, caring staff, but are their hours of operation right to meet this need that I speak of?”
Despite the criticism of BBM, Mr Zempilas said there had been a shift and the McGowan government was making strides.
He praised the appointment of Mr Carey as the state’s first homeless minister.
“Now depending on your point of view, it was either an admission enough wasn’t being done, or that more needed to be done in this space,” Mr Zempilas said.
“Either way it was a win for the community and a win for our city, and I’m pleased to be able to say that we have seen a change in approach and importantly, a change in vigour in dealing with homelessness.”
But he warned that a number of the government’s initiatives, such as the Common Ground supported housing facility, were long-term solutions, when more immediate action was needed.
by STEVE GRANT