Homeless centre move voted down

A DROP-IN homeless centre planned for James Street has been unanimously rejected by Perth councillors after more than 100 objections from locals.

Ruah currently runs the drop in centre on Shenton Street opposite Russell Square, but will soon redevelop the site into a seven-storey shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence.

Ruah found the new spot 270m away but it’s nestled among small businesses and homes. Owners who’ve invested in the area aren’t keen on the prospective new neighbour, fearing for their safety, businesses, and property prices, and conducted a letter writing campaign urging Perth council to refuse the planning application.

“This centre does not have a place in a thriving and successful business area with [restaurants], motel and residential accommodation business,” one objector wrote to Perth council.

One office owner wrote “I love Northbridge, I love its culture and diversity and everything that goes with it, but I do avoid the corner of Shenton Street where Ruah currently is at all costs. 

“It is unsafe and confronting and one of the few places where I consistently get verbally abused and accosted by all manner of people in all states of undress and intoxication, not to mention the human faeces and the overwhelming smell of urine.”

There were four letters of support from people who generally agreed the centre would help address problems.

At the May 24 Perth council briefing Ruah’s Elsie Blay told councillors there’d be more people sleeping rough in the CBD if they couldn’t find a new home for the centre.

Anti-social

“We’re part of the solution and we want to work together to end homelessness,” Ms Blay said.

The centre runs 8.30am to 2pm and provides a mail service, computers, and help filling out forms: “At our hub, clients will receive practical support in a housing first approach, be able to secure identification so they can apply for jobs, housing, and Centrelink,” Ms Blay said.

But councillors heeded the flood of objections and refused to approve the change of use application Ruah needed for a drop-in service. 

Cr Brent Fleeton moved the rejection, saying the drop-in centre would adversely impact on the character and amenity of the area through extra noise, anti-social behaviour and a reduction in public safety. The council’s town planning rules says they are to consider “amenity” when making planning decisions.

“There’s no denying the surrounding locality will change for the worse if this centre is approved,” Cr Fleeton said.

He said they should take heed of concerns and lived experiences from residents and business owners who’d invested in the area and wanted to improve it. 

Council supported his motion to reject the centre, which will likely mean a hold up for the construction of the seven-storey women and children’s hub.

Ahead of the vote Perth council planning staff had warned the council would be on shaky ground if they refused the change of use. It’s a pretty minor planning change that allows the building to be used as a “cultural and community centre” which the council’s own planning scheme says is welcome in Northbridge.

On concerns over loss of amenity, more crime, and falling property values, the council’s planning staff advised: “none of these matters form solid planning grounds upon which the proposal could reasonably be refused” which gives Ruah a potential case for appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal.

Lord mayor Basil Zempilas last week told a parliamentary committee that homeless services should start being more decentralised so they’re not all concentrated around the CBD.

by DAVID BELL

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