By Eric Martin
New report highlights need for better support for the homeless, migrants and the poor
The number of people sleeping rough in Western Australia is on the increase, according to a new report by The University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA).
The report, Poverty, Homelessness and Migrants in Western Australia, has been commissioned by the Archdiocese of Perth and is the first of a series of planned, annual research reports that will inform the provision of the Catholic Church’s social outreach programs in Perth.
The report is an initiative of the Archdiocesan Plan as part of the Social Outreach priority, with the research data to be used to assist judgements in the areas of
- assessing the need for new social outreach agencies/activities;
- the capacity to close or scale back existing social outreach agencies/activities;
- he need to avoid duplication of social outreach activities; and
- the opportunity for the Archdiocese to partner with other Catholic agencies such as Catholic Homes to achieve our goals.
Dr Martin Drum, Director of Public Policy at UNDA, said the Archdiocese and Notre Dame are natural partners in research since “we have a common mission and purpose in many of the things we do”.
“One of the major benefits of the report is that it outlines the prevalence of key social issues in the Perth community, and the areas where those problems have manifested themselves.
“In particular, the report should help agencies who address poverty, homelessness, and migrant issues, by highlighting where the gaps in service delivery currently are,” Dr Martin explained.
In 2016, the Census of Population and Housing stated that Australia’s rate of homelessness has increased 4.6 per cent since 2011 and that an estimated 9,000 West Australians are categorised as homeless.
The study classifies homelessness according to three distinct levels of access to accommodation and basic resources, a definition it shares with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS):
- Primary homelessness: being without conventional accommodation;
- Secondary homelessness: moving frequently from one form of temporary shelter to another;
- Tertiary homelessness: living in boarding houses on a medium to long-term basis.
Compared with other states and territories, WA had a below average overall homelessness rate, falling by 11 per cent from 2011 to 2016, yet the harshest form of homelessness, “sleeping rough” is increasing compared to other states and territories, rising three per cent over the same period to 1083 people (or 13 per cent of all people sleeping rough nationally).
“WA had the lowest rate of homelessness for young people aged 12 to 24 and people aged 55 and over compared with the rest of Australia.”
Men make up 60 per cent of the states’ homeless population and WA had the lowest rate of homelessness for young people aged 12 to 24 and people aged 55 and over compared with the rest of Australia.
Gary is a mature aged man who has been living on the streets of Perth for at least six years and has seen many changes take place in the City’s homeless population over that same period.
“I was in Melbourne for a bit, but you know, the gangs over there, Perth’s good. I’m not really sure how long I’ve been homeless but at least six years in Perth and it’s the usual issues at night time – drugs and alcohol seem to be coming through more,” Gary said.
“There seems to be more people about and they’re spreading out to the outer suburbs, like Kelmscott, it’s nice out there.
“There’s support; a homeless person can access things like the Catholic Coffee Van, but it would be great to see some sort of addiction programmes to help with alcohol and cigarettes especially – there’s a lot of problems with addiction. Once your money starts disappearing on that, well, there’s nothing left for a roof.”
Preventative and early intervention homelessness programs for children and young teenagers are important in reducing risk factors and breaking the developmental cycle of homelessness, a view supported by Gary out on the streets.
“Parents should stay together, stay off drugs, don’t drink alcohol and quit the cigarettes – it’s always the same kind of issues causing this and people just can’t seem to stop,” Gary said.
From pages 20 to 21 of Issue 20: ‘Wellbeing: Building stronger communities that flourish as a whole’ of The Record Magazine