A disingenuous WA premier fails the homeless

January 28, 2021
Photo: Pixabay

The forced clearing of the homeless people’s camp in Fremantle’s Pioneer Park with the offer of just one week in motel accommodation demonstrates the complete failure of the Mark McGowan Labor government to address the crisis of homelessness in Western Australia.

Not only is there not enough crisis accommodation for those sleeping on the street, but the state government has made the problem worse by cutting the number of public housing dwellings by 1300, or 4%, in the past three years. This is despite the fact that there already were 15,000 applications on the waiting list, with an effective waiting time up to seven years.

Reducing the stock of public housing and pushing out the waiting list at this time is a brutal blow for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the community. It is wrecking people’s lives.

Anglicare estimates that when JobKeeper and JobSeeker get wound back, the waiting list will double.

The state government has been feeling secure — riding high on its management of COVID-19.

The existence of the Fremantle camp, along with similar camps in Perth and Mandurah in the south, blights its record. The prominent location of the Fremantle camp was acutely embarrassing in the lead up to a state election. Keeping homeless people dispersed — out of sight and out of mind — has guided the government’s response.

The various attempts by the government to distract our focus from the causes of the homelessness crisis were completely disgraceful and littered with lies. It insisted that there were sufficient crisis accommodation beds in the Fremantle area and claimed that the camp had been organised by Extinction Rebellion. Trying to sow panic by attributing almost every crime committed in the Fremantle area to the camp was an act of sheer desperation.

Particularly disingenuous was the government’s suggestion that by supporting the people in the camp, volunteers from the Fremantle Street Kitchen were somehow diverting homeless people from accredited organisations that provide “wrap-around services” and were exposing vulnerable people to greater danger.

The Fremantle Street Kitchen was not in a position to stop people from accessing other services and, in any case, never sought to do this.

Regardless of which organisations homeless people ask for assistance, they remain homeless. The most important “wrap-around service” remains dignified and affordable long-term housing.

The government has implied, absurdly, that people sleeping in doorways, back lanes and vacant lots in the street are less likely to be the perpetrators or victims of crime and anti-social behaviour than if they remain together at the Fremantle Street Kitchen and the Pioneer Park camp.

Needless to say, no evidence has been produced to back this up. While camps remain insecure places compared with proper housing, clearly some homeless people feel safer in them.

It is very unfortunate that some service-provider organisations chimed in with this criticism of the camp and the volunteers supporting the people staying there.

Various camps have sprung up near Lord Street in Perth precisely because of their proximity to official service provider organisations, but in much worse circumstances than Pioneer Park.

However, because they are in less public locations, neither the state government nor the media have shown much interest in them.

What should be obvious to all is that the policy of funding support services to the homeless without actually providing homes is a miserable failure.

Flush with mining royalties, the state budget is in surplus. A government that genuinely cares about people could easily have made substantial progress in fixing this problem.

Additional crisis accommodation to house everyone currently sleeping on the street could be sourced in a matter of weeks if the government was serious about it.

However, this is not enough.

The only lasting solution is to guarantee everyone access to affordable and dignified long-term housing. Indigenous communities need to be empowered and resourced to manage culturally appropriate support services and housing.

Housing is a human right and it is a government obligation to ensure that right is upheld.

The Socialist Alliance is proposing that WA really strikes at the housing affordability crisis by creating 30,000 new public housing dwellings in four years.

[Marianne Mackay is a Whadjuk Noongar, long time social justice advocate and lead Socialist Alliance candidate for South Metropolitan (Legislative Council). Sam Wainwright is a socialist councillor at the City of Fremantle and candidate for Fremantle (Legislative Assembly).]

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