THE number of people sleeping rough in Fremantle looks to have doubled during Covid-19, according to alarming new figures released by St Patrick’s Community Support Centre.
St Pat’s CEO Michael Piu said a change in the way the centre counts its clients meant the increase was based largely on anecdotal evidence, but staff developed a strong rapport with the city’s homeless people and had a pretty good idea about who was out there.
The centre is also experiencing an unprecedented surge in new clients, although overall usage is roughly the same as before the pandemic.
“While the overall number of people using St Pat’s Day Centre services is about the same as pre-Covid, what is interesting and also alarming is that we are seeing a significant number of people coming to St Pat’s who are completely new,” Mr Piu said.
Up to 15 new people a day are using the centre’s services, which include emergency housing and food, health and financial counselling.
Mr Pui said the new method of counting clients involved collecting key details, which showed that many people have unexpectedly found themselves at financial risk and become reliant on Centrelink benefits for the first time in their lives.
“These are difficult challenges we must rise to, but perhaps also the terrible extent of the impact in our community means we are likely to be more empathetic, and open to the realisation that each of us only has good fortune standing between us and crisis,” Mr Piu said.
“I hope that we can convince many more in the community that poverty and homelessness is not simply a question of personal fault or failing; and that resolving these issues is a responsibility we all share, and one we should care deeply about.”
The new findings from St Pat’s coincides with Homelessness Week, which federal Labor MP Josh Wilson used to call on the Morrison government to invest heavily in social housing.
“The pandemic has focused attention on the fact that without safe and affordable housing, everything else is contingent and at risk – including health, education, employment and social inclusion,” Mr Wilson said.
“It is shameful that since 2013 the Coalition has reduced funding to crisis housing and homelessness support services like St Patrick’s in Fremantle, which in 2017 resulted in more than 65,000 people being turned away [from] desperately needed assistance, and of course they abolished the National Housing Supply Council.
Data released this week by Homelessness Australia shows 700 people are homeless in Fremantle – only second to the Perth CBD in the metropolitan area.
High Street trader Clint Clarke has called on Fremantle council to increase its weekend cleaning team after a rough sleeper left a pile of clothes, cigarette butts and food packaging outside his furniture outlet.
“Our street was already busy and people were walking over it,” Mr Clarke said.
“Yes it’s sad this person is living on the streets but the mess they are leaving is not ok. The city needs to employ two staff on Sundays … it is ridiculous to have one person cleaning all of the CBD.”
Mr Clarke says he hasn’t seen the small motorised cart that used to clean the pavements with detergent for a long time.
“We need that back as the pathways are dirty,” he said.
By STEVE GRANT