Shelter plea

Homeless people with mental health issues have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. File photo

ST PAT’S Community Support Centre is calling for increased social housing to help the most vulnerable survive the economic fallout from Covid-19. 

Since 1972, St Pat’s has worked to help those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless in Fremantle and in the south west metro region. 

“The lack of social housing has really been the biggest challenge during the crisis, and this needs urgent attention to make a difference to homelessness now and into the future,” says St Pat’s CEO Michael Piu.

“We are starting to see new clients coming through asking for assistance on managing debts and changing financial circumstances.

“The JobKeeper payment and increase to Jobseeker has lessened the immediate impact of losing a job. It further highlights the need for fairer income support payment moving forward.

“Under pre-Covid-19 payments, charitable services would not have been able to cope with the increased numbers seeking assistance.”

Mr Piu says as WA slowly comes out of lockdown their Queen Victoria Street day centre will be inundated with people seeking urgent help.

“The challenges and true impact will really be seen over the next 12 to 18 months, as the reality of living on income support, people struggling with debt and housing stress sets in and turn to services like St Pat’s for support,” he says.

“St Pat’s also relies on a donations and support from local business to supplement a number of our service areas and to support new initiatives; we are slightly concerned that the impact on businesses profits could have a flow on effect to our fundraising efforts. 

“We believe that in the future we will see a growing number of new clients, many of which would never have had to seek assistance from a community service before. 

“We are also seeing increased numbers of street present homelessness, and this presents both a shorter-term challenge to the health of these individuals whilst the risks of Covid-19 still persist in the community, as well as a longer term one in resolving their homelessness. 

“We believe that accelerating the WA 10 Year Strategy on Homelessness…will play an important role supporting people to be housed rapidly.”

During the pandemic the Fremantle centre started a new program, Doorstep Dinners, to feed people at high-risk who can’t afford regular meals.

“So far we have provided over 7000 free evening meals cooked by local restaurants to over 200 people in the Fremantle and surrounding areas,” Mr Piu says.

“We have been very fortunate to have received meals for our day centre from a number of local restaurants (Mother India, The Federal Hotel and Nando’s).

“We are averaging around 120 people a day coming through for some form of assistance.

“Many of our health services are provided by volunteers (dentists, chiros, optometrists, hairdressers) and they have had to stop attending.”

Mr Piu says it has been extremely difficult for the homeless to socially distance.

“The Covid-19 situation has caused our homeless clients a great deal of anxiety in general, although there are others who really just don’t understand the seriousness of the situation,” he says. 

“For those with diagnosed mental health disorders there has been an increase in anxiety, paranoia etc causing a considerable amount of distress. 

“Social distancing is very difficult for homeless people as often ‘street families’ stay together in one spot. 

“When the very strict restrictions were in, groups moved out of sight so there was no-one to remind them about social distancing protocol.”

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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