State finds $2.3m for homelessness

Communities staff process Tent City campers before they are bussed off to hotel accommodation. Photo by Charlotte Ashton-Grant.

THE McGowan government has committed another $2.3 million towards combating homelessness, but has stopped short of promising to use it to rehouse 67 people moved out of Fremantle’s Tent City last Saturday.

Department of Communities executive director Glenn Mace said the money “will go directly towards providing wrap-around supports for people experiencing homelessness across Perth as part of ongoing efforts to ensure those who are willing to engage get the help they need.

“These funds will be targeted at helping individuals to move from emergency accommodation into longer-term accommodation,” Mr Mace said.

The Herald understands the money, which was likely allocated Thursday morning, won’t be used to extend the hotel stay of residents moved from tent cities in Fremantle or East Perth, although housing minister Peter Tinley told 6PR on Monday morning that temporary accommodation would last “as long as it needs to”.

House the Homeless spokesperson Jesse Noakes said during the week there’d been little information about any accommodation beyond the hotel and he was concerned any extensions might come with deliberately onerous conditions to force campers to leave voluntarily.

Tent City was also high on the agenda at Fremantle council’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, where mayor Brad Pettitt was again quizzed on his, and the city’s, role in approving the Boxing Day soup kitchen on Pioneer Park which morphed into the camp.

Dr Pettitt told the Herald he and councillor Rachel Pemberton spoke with Jesse Noakes from House the Homeless on December 18 and heard only about plans for the soup kitchen.

Both Dr Pettitt and Cr Pemberton said their only role was to put Mr Noakes in contact with city staff, the local chief of police and chamber of commerce CEO Danicia Quinlan.

The council says staff were approached on December 23 about a “24-hour” food service while other providers were closed.

Verbally

“Staff advised verbally that they did not envisage any objection to the food service but advised the organisers to submit a formal application, which was never received,” the council said in a response to questions. “At no time did the city approve or support a camp at the park.”

Dr Pettitt said he could understand staff expressing support for a service feeding homeless people when others were shut: “Who wouldn’t support that?”

Both Dr Pettitt and CEO Philip St John were on leave by Boxing Day. When the mayor returned he met council staff on Pioneer Park on January 2 and an internal meeting was set up for January 4.

“The clear advice at the January 4 meeting was that you don’t want to let them linger, you needed to have a day to get people in and to move everyone at the same time,” he said.

Dr Pettitt said the state government was the only real choice to provide supported accommodation, but it took more than two weeks to get a response.

“I don’t think they would have responded unless it became a story on the front page.”

But he said from there the city, Department of Communities, support agencies and police worked collaboratively towards a response, with police making it clear they didn’t want to move in unless the camp’s residents had somewhere else to go.

Dr Pettitt said lands minister Ben Wyatt’s decision to revoke the council’s control of the park last Friday night was “political theatre” because the council was supportive of the response to wind up Tent City, and its offices were being used as a co-ordinating point.

“It made no material difference to what happened that day.”

The mayor’s explanation wasn’t sufficient for councillor Marija Vujcic, who said the city’s “systematic failures of governance” were “catastrophic”.

Cr Vujcic moved a late motion at Wednesday meeting calling for an immediate independent investigation into Tent City, but only succeeded in getting it sent to a committee.

She said her first email questioning what was going on went out on December 30, and after getting assurances the city hadn’t given approval for the camp she asked for an investigation the next day.

“I was worried that the event now known as Tent City was a much bigger issue for the city to handle.”

Cr Vujcic claims at an informal elected members meeting she recalls an acknowledgement Dr Pettitt and Cr Pemberton approved for the soup kitchen.

by STEVE GRANT

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