WA HOMELESSNESS minister John Carey has blasted Perth councillors for voting against a homeless drop-in centre moving to a new location in Northbridge.
Homelessness services provider Ruah runs the drop-in centre on Shenton Street opposite Russell Square, but that site’s soon to be redeveloped into a seven-storey shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence (Voice, June 4, 2022).
Ruah found a new home for the drop-in centre 270m away at 249 James Street and asked Perth council to approve a change in planning use to “community or cultural centre” to let them operate a drop-in there.
After hearing more than 100 objections from James Street residents and business owners, councillors voted against the change on May 31 on the grounds the centre could wreck amenity and cause more anti-social behaviour.
Mr Carey put out a statement on the decision saying the vote “is deeply saddening, and in effect, may shut down one of only two critical drop in centres for our city.
“I respect the right of councils to make decisions but does not mean they should not be publicly scrutinised, and held to account,” Mr Carey said.
“The decision by the City of Perth to vote against the relocation does not show good leadership from the elected members when tackling the complex issues that vulnerable people in our community face.”
Mr Carey referenced the Safe Night Space which Perth council set up last year as a stopgap in lieu of enough state government services.
“Consistently spruiking City of Perth funding for a Safe Night Space for women in the city and advocating for extended outreach and drop in hours while simultaneously making decisions which block existing homelessness services simply does not cut it,” Mr Carey said.
“I am not dismissive of local concerns and as an inner city resident I understand the complexities and potential challenges of homelessness service hubs. The reality
is the City of Perth elected council could have sought to navigate this difficult issue with leadership by gathering stakeholders, Ruah and City of Perth administration around the table to find a real solution.”
Perth lord mayor Basil Zempilas has said homelessness services should be decentralised so they’re not all in CBD, arguing the services are drawing people in. Ruah’s general manager of housing and homelessness Elsie Blay had contended that the people were already in the city and services set up in response.
Mr Carey said: “This decision confirms our worst fears about people’s attitudes to social housing and homelessness.
“Everyone is happy to support social housing or homeless services, so long as it is not located close to their business or home.
“For the record, I do practice what I preach, as I live around the corner from the state government-newly funded medical respite centre for homelessness people, with 20 beds.”
Ruah looked at about 120 locations before settling on the James Street building. While Ruah had a pretty good case to appeal the council’s decision to the State Administrative Tribunal, it’s instead looking for a new location.
by DAVID BELL