Guest Article - The Hon. Simone McGurk MLA

It is not a throwaway line to say that homelessness is a complex issue. The reality is that people experiencing homelessness are often facing co-existing challenges such as mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency, inter-generational trauma and other health-related issues.

And while we see examples of great practice in WA like Foyer Oxford, embedding these into our broader service system is a challenge. As Foyer has demonstrated, you cannot build a facility with almost 100 beds in the heart of Leederville overnight. There is also a huge amount of work involved.

There is no simple solution – if there was, it would have been solved some time ago. But it can be done such that a service like Foyer is not only accepted by the local community – it is celebrated.

Due to the complexity and time required to produce effective outcomes, responding to homelessness can be a vexing policy area that many leaders opt to avoid. But I won’t shy away from this issue. I know that progress takes time, and despite the challenges, governments play a key role in ensuring every citizen is supported to achieve their full potential.

As the Minister responsible for the State’s homelessness response, I will not be distracted by populist reactions to this issue. These efforts may allay political pressure and shift homelessness out of the headlines for a time, but they typically result in ineffective and temporary solutions.

Instead, I am committed to applying sound policy that ensures we pursue the best outcomes for people sleeping rough, and where required, invest in long-term projects that help us break the cycle of homelessness.

That is why we worked in partnership with the community services sector, different layers of government, people with lived experience and the broader community to produce a comprehensive State strategy. Together, we have set out the evidence-based path that we must now follow to tackle one of the leadingsocial issues confronting the modern world.

The evidence that we have collected is clear.

Across the world, the most successful projects all have one common theme - a Housing First approach. This approach provides access to stable housing, as well as the crucial supports that people need to maintain their housing.

One of the models that achieves this - with great outcomes for people experiencing homelessness - is Common Ground. Originating in New York City more than 20 years ago, it has since been adopted in other Australian states and territories. It brings together people on low incomes and others at risk of homelessness in a residential complex that includes self-contained apartments, communal areas and office spaces.

For those with high needs, housing is coupled with an intensive, case-managed support program to help them maintain their tenancy and manage the co-morbidity of mental illness, alcohol and other drug dependency and inter-generational trauma.

In WA, the State Government has committed $35 million to build two Common Ground facilities, the first of which will be built on the corners of Wellington and Hill streets in East Perth. This project is well underway and is expected to deliver a minimum of 70 beds by the 2021-22 financial year.

The recently announced City Deal between the Commonwealth Government, State Government and City of Perth has secured additional funding from the Federal Government for the establishment of Perth Common Ground.

I had previously visited Common Ground in Brisbane, where I spoke to services, residents and local community members who all told me of the success of this approach. One thing that really resonated with me is that a Common Ground is not another drop in centre or a temporary shelter. It is a home, that delivers all of the critical supports that are necessary to ensure it remains a home. This combination is key to people experiencing homelessness leaving the streets for good.

That’s why it is a flagship project in the State Government’s $222m Housing and Homelessness Investment Package to support people experiencing homelessness. Other components include construction of an additional 300 social houses, 200 extra shared equity homes and the maintenance and refurbishment of 70 social housing dwellings.

Creating homes for people has been further supported through the McGowan Government’s Social Housing Economic Recovery Package, which is part of our response to COVID 19. This additional $319 million will be used to refurbish 1,500 homes, purchase or build 250 additional social houses and implement a maintenance works program for 3,800 homes in regional areas.

Delivering permanent evidence-based solutions takes time. But they are lasting solutions. We have a vision, and need to stay the course to bring that vision to reality.

We will continue to do what we can to deliver immediate responses through existing services. But we have committed to do things differently for a reason – we want to break the cycle of homelessness and get people off the streets for good.

This article was submitted by The Hon. Simone McGurk MLA

Acknowledgement of Country

The Committee For Perth acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.