Homes for the hidden

PLANS to turn unused government land into homes for at-risk older women in North Fremantle has gone to the WA government, but could face a stumbling block in the form of Main Roads. 

The My Home initiative aims to provide 18 prefabricated houses for homeless women on surplus Department of Transport land on Congdon Street, with Fremantle council giving the project the green light in March. It’s anticipated the first houses will be completed and filled by August this year.

Low-cost housing provider Foundation Housing is managing the project, operating on the principle that permanent, secure housing is the most important factor in achieving independence and dignity; known as Housing First. 

Lightweight

The project will use lightweight, ‘flat pack’ construction to reduce costs and allow for easy removal if the Department of Transport requires the land back, with the council’s approval for the project ending in 15 years. 

However, keeping costs low is not the project’s only priority. 

Foundation Housing director and architect Michelle Blakeley said creating a home, rather than just a place to stay, is an important part of the initiative. 

“You want to give them the dignity of having a home of reasonable quality… that’s pleasant to live in,” Ms Blakeley said. 

“It always comes back to feeling like it’s their home, same as anybody else.”

The 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics census reported the number of homeless women over 55 had increased 31 per cent between 2011 and 2016. 

Mercy Foundation CEO Sue Mowbray said lack of superannuation, low wages, taking time off work to raise a family or care for older relatives, age discrimination, lower levels of home ownership, abuse, or the sudden death or divorce of a spouse were all factors adding to the rise of homelessness in older women. 

The foundation’s website states that of 1518 homelessness services in Australia, only three specialise in providing services for women. 

“This group of women are often hidden,” Ms Mowbray said.

“Staying with their family or friends, sleeping in their car, or becoming adept at house-sitting to keep a roof over their head. Their experience of homelessness is likely to be sheltered rather than unsheltered, however, their physical and mental health is often on a downhill trajectory.”

The proposed development contains 18 self-contained units of 30m2, including a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living area. There is a shared laundry, vegetable gardens, fruit trees and outdoor living areas, according to a prospectus produced by Foundation Housing. The project will be a three-way investments between the organisation, the WA government and private investors.

Demonstration

The public launch for the ‘My Home’ project was initially to be this month with a demonstration house ready for viewing, thought it’s been delayed due to Covid-19. 

Ms Blakeley said she was still “confident the project will come to fruition.”

The development is currently awaiting approval from the WA Planning Commission as it’s on state-owned land, and Main Roads could still throw a spanner in the works. It objected to the development when it came before Fremantle council, arguing it could get in the way of a bridge planned to cross the railway and link Curtin Avenue to Stirling Highway.

by KIRALEE PAINE

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