The forced clearing of the homeless people’s camp in Fremantle’s Pioneer Park with the offer of only one week in motel accommodation demonstrates the complete failure of the McGowan government to address the crisis of homelessness in our state.
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 last three years when there was already 15,000 applications on the waiting list and an effective wait 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 and is wrecking peoples’ lives. Anglicare estimates that when JobKeeper and JobSeeker get wound back and the recession really begins to bite, 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, stands as a blight on 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, is what has guided their response.
The various attempts by the McGowan government to distract focus from the causes of the homelessness crisis were completely disgraceful and littered with lies, from insisting that there were sufficient crisis accommodation beds in the Fremantle area to claiming 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 suggestion that in supporting the people in the camp, the volunteers from the Fremantle Street Kitchen were somehow diverting homeless people from accredited organisations that provide “wrap-around services” and exposing vulnerable people to greater danger.
The Fremantle Street Kitchen was not in a position to stop people from accessing other services and never sought to do this in any case. Regardless of which organisations homeless people access for assistance, they remain homeless. The most important “wrap-around service” remains dignified and affordable long-term housing.
An absurd implication of the attack on Fremantle Street Kitchen and the Pioneer Park camp is that people sleeping in the street are less likely to be the perpetrators or victims of crime and anti-social behaviour if they remain dispersed sleeping in doorways, back lanes and vacant lots. Needless to say no evidence has been produced to back this up. While camps remain insecure places compared to proper housing, clearly some homeless people feel safer in them.
It’s 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 St 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 is that the government policy of funding support services to the homeless without actually providing homes is a miserable failure. Flush with mining royalties the WA 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 state government were 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 an obligation of the government to ensure that right is upheld. Socialist Alliance is proposing that WA really strike 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 candidate for South Metropolitan (Legislative Council).
Sam Wainwright is Councillor at the City of Fremantle and candidate for Fremantle (Legislative Assembly).