Getting smart about homelessness

Last year local MP John Carey held the Perth City Summit, a huge community event to engage the community and gather ideas about how to develop city for the future. One of the most talked about issues at the summit was homelessness.

While discussion about homelessness often feature business owners and residents demanding something be done, on this occasion the loud voice of residents were calling for support for those in need, rather than streets being cleared.

John Carey told OUTinPerth he wasn’t surprised that homelessness ranked high on issues people wanted tackled.

“Homeless is an ongoing concern in the city.” Carey told OUTinPerth. “There are different perspectives, one perspective if people are concerned about people living on the streets, but there are residents and small businesses who approach me and talk about people sleeping in front of their businesses or getting dressed in the street or their car parks – and they seen it as a nuisance.”

“What was interesting out of the Perth City Summit is that there was a real desire to see a coherent strategy. I have to admit that my assessment after learning more about homelessness was that there is quite an ad-hoc approach. There are great service providers doing great things, but we need a coordinated approach.” Carey said.

Now a working group set up by Carey and the City of Perth is beginning to work out what services are provided, where there are gaps, and where improvement can be made.

One example Carey highlights is that there is no drop-in centre that operates in the afternoons. “We need to work out home we can better outcomes and ultimately end homelessness.” Carey said voicing support for the methodology that gets people into housing first where they can then access other essential support services.

As we head into the festive season many people decide to lend a helping hand to those most in need but Carey says people should seek advice about how they can best make a difference, and fit in with existing services.

“I am concerned about what I call ‘ego-assistance’, where someone rather than working through an established provider who understands the key issues, and understands what is needed, people just pop up, develop a group, go out and give goods out and then ultimately disappear. It doesn’t help anyone and doesn’t help end homelessness.”

Carey recommends that instead people work with an established service provider and see what assistance they need. It’s an approach that Ron Reid from Perth Homeless Group supports.

Reid and his partner, Michael Edwards, set up their support group several years ago, but they quickly learned they were more effective if they focussed on filling gaps not provided by other services and focussed on building trust and consistency.

“There is a challenge when individuals go out doing the good samaritan thing without checking if they could cause an issue or a problem. They go out and handout things that maybe people don’t actually want or need.” Reid told OUTinPerth. “Whether the homeless take it or not, they feel good about giving it.”

“In our early days we did a lot of work on weekends because we found out that is where the gaps in the services was, but we also found out where the best places to go were that didn’t interrupt businesses or cause other problems.”

Reid says food is a really good example of where well intention acts can backfire. “Homeless people have good access to food during the week, it’s a little harder during the weekend, but often people will go to shop and buy someone a sandwich and drop it in their lap, and then wonder why the homeless person didn’t want a sandwich.

“People don’t need charity, they need communication. It can be well intentioned but your actions can also be quite impotent.” Reid said.

The suggestion from experts is the most effective way you can help homelessness is by working with an established provider and asking them what they can use, rather than assuming you know what a homeless person needs.

Want to make a difference? Head to one of these agencies.

Perth Homeless Support Group
perthhomeless.org.au

Anglicare
anglicarewa.org.au

RUAH Community Services
ruah.org.au

Find out more information about available services at the City of Perth
perth.wa.gov.au

This is the first in a series of articles on homelessness.
Graeme Watson


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