Govt drags its heels

• Jesse Noakes, Adin Lang, Patrick Prendiville and Noelene Garlett, whose thankful she’s finally found a roof over her head. Photo by Steve Grant.

MORE than 30 homeless people who’ve found temporary accommodation in a Fremantle hotel face being back on the streets within days because the McGowan government is dawdling over whether to help.

The rough sleepers have been at the Hougoumont Hotel in Bannister Street since late last week after homeless advocates negotiated a quick deal with the owners to take up the mostly-empty rooms.

Jesse Noakes works for one of the advocacy groups helping to fund the program and says they’ve only got enough reserves to keep the group at the hotel for the next few days.

After that, he says they’ll be back on the streets where they would be particularly vulnerable if Coronavirus were to take hold.

“Once it gets going, good luck pulling it back; good luck trying to track people and enforce self-isolation,” Mr Noakes said.

Repeated attempts to get the Department of Communities to financially support the program have got them nowhere.

“The department has set up a homeless taskforce which is spinning its wheels and getting flowcharts,” Mr Noakes said in frustration.

He says they need $3000 – $4000 each day to keep the homeless people in the hotel.

The Department has its own trial operating in Perth’s CBD at the Pan Pacific Hotel, and Mr Noakes said while the Hougoumont trial doesn’t come with the same level of support services, it’s running at a fraction of the cost.

But he says there are still medical checks each day and case workers, many volunteering their services, are available.

Hougoumont owner Patrick Prendiville said the McGowan government needed to “step forward”.

“It’s ridiculous that this is being funded by private enterprise rather than the state government,” Mr Prendiville said.

The hotelier agreed to take part after being approached by city ward councillor Adin Lang and running it past his staff. He said the trial has worked extremely well and he’s been touched by the gratitude shown by the hotel’s new guests.

Cr Lang said after being contacted by Mr Noakes, he contacted the Hougoumont because it was locally-owned.

“Jesse rang me and explained what he was trying to do and I thought it would be good for Fremantle for two reasons; the social and also the economics for keeping the hotels open, Cr Lang said.

He says supporting the Hougoumont was also important because the company is also behind the development of a boutique hotel alongside the Fremantle Markets, and construction projects post-Coronavirus would be vital for Fremantle’s economy.

Mr Prendiville said while that hotel was still on track to open in November, having the homeless trial filling rooms and keeping staff in jobs was certainly a help.

Community services minister Simone McGurk’s electorate office is only a block away from the Hougoumont, and her department said it was considering supporting similar initiatives … “as part of a broader response to the needs of people experiencing homelessness at this time”.

A spokesperson from the department said Mr Noakes’ organisation Day Dawn had been encouraged to seek funding through Lotterywest’s emergency relief fund.

It’s own pilot project, Hotel With Heart, started with 29 participants in the Pan Pacific, although a number have left after the initial quarantine period left them feeling too contained and unable to unwind with a cigarette.

“Some challenges were anticipated, as the people targeted through the pilot are chronic or long-term rough sleepers, and the transition from rough sleeping to the confined environment of hotel rooms can be challenging even with intensive support,” the spokesperson said.

“The Department of Communities is committed to a multi-agency response to the risks associated with Covid-19 faced by those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”

by STEVE GRANT

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