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Tent City aftermath highlights WA's lack of homelessness solutions

Aaron Bloch -

Over the weekend the Western Australian Government sent police into Fremantle's Pioneer Park to tear down the makeshift 'Tent City' that has been housing dozens of Perth's homeless.

The people who had been living at the park for nearly month were given the option of a hotel stay for a week before being put back into the same situation: on the streets with nowhere to live. This measure saw 67 people housed temporarily.

Since the camp was established over the Christmas period it has brought more attention to the State's homelessness rates.

Whilst doubt has been cast over the authenticity of those who were living in the park by Premier Mark McGowan, an increased awareness of, and pressure to solve WA's homelessness crisis has become very apparent.

Tent City was brought greater attention in recent weeks when Liberal Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup challenged the Premier to solve the issue by the end of the month.

In a press conference, the Premier justified his actions by saying the local council did not want the issue resolved. He said the organisers of Tent City "just want to protest, they just want to see the TV cameras there".

The Fremantle Tent City signifies the broader issue of homelessness currently plaguing the State. As of the 2016 census, about 9,000 people were homeless in WA with approximately 1,000 of them sleeping rough and without shelter.

The rate of homelessness for Indigenous people in the State is 13 times the rate of non-Indigenous people, with WA's specialist homelessness services reporting an overrepresentation of Indigenous people at 41 per cent of all the people they assist.

Organisations such as the First Nations Homelessness Project, Shelter WA and the WA Alliance to End Homelessness exist to advocate for and help prevent both Indigenous and non-Indigenous homelessness alike. However, they face difficulties in making any noticeable change.

The significant homelessness within the Indigenous community creates problems beyond safety and comfort.

Shelter WA described the links between poor quality housing and poor health, with respiratory illness, mental ill-health, and cardiovascular disease just some examples of issues exacerbated by homelessness.

A spokesperson for the Premier said the ongoing work "improve outcomes" for Pioneer Park's rough sleepers is "complex and takes time".

"Department of Communities staff and the homelessness services sector continue to provide wrap-around support to vulnerable people who have been placed in hotel and motel accommodation, alongside their efforts to move them into appropriate accommodation," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also said rough sleepers' meals are being paid for and support services are helping with needs such as ID, Centrelink benefits and mental health services.

"The government's work with service providers to leverage existing resources and ensure that available accommodation is matched with the necessary wrap-around supports is ongoing."

To address Indigenous homelessness in WA, the spokesperson said the McGowan Government has "committed to engage more Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) as funded service providers to ensure that its housing and homelessness responses are culturally appropriate".

The spokesperson said the WA Government's $3.8 million investment into "intervention for rough sleepers" at East Perth's Lord Street Bridge is to be delivered through a partnership with an ACCO. The spokesperson did not say which ACCO the State Government had partnered with.

WA Liberal Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup announced his plan last week in response to the attention on Tent City.

"The Liberals have already announced a comprehensive $57.5 million plan to help the homeless," Kirkup said.

"We will deliver 500 emergency accommodation beds for the homeless to provide safe and secure accommodation to those sleeping rough on the streets in the first six months of government. One hundred of those beds would be delivered in Fremantle."

However, Kirkup avoided answering questions regarding the WA Liberals' plan to address Indigenous homelessness specifically.

"Our longer-term plan for public housing will be released in coming weeks," he said.

By Aaron Bloch

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