IT was divisive and criticised as the work of “anarchists”, but one of the key organisers of Fremantle’s ‘Tent City’ says it was a major victory for people living homeless; and he’s quoting one of its fiercest critics to back his claim.
Former Extinction Rebellion organiser Jesse Noakes has pointed to a piece written by St Pat’s CEO Michael Piu in an industry publication last month which notes 63 per cent of Tent City’s residents had subsequently been found accommodation.
Mr Noakes says that contrasts with Perth’s general homeless population who had a less than 5 per cent chance of being housed over the same period.
“The camps were a response to Covid, and in every crisis there are opportunities,” Mr Noakes said.
“New collaboration is arguably the greatest legacy of this disruption.”
Mr Noakes said that came in the form of the Homeless Engagement and Assessment Response Team led by St Pat’s, while Fremantle’s Tent City and another in Northbridge forced the government’s hand and led to a massive public housing investment.
“It’s still not nearly enough, of course, and comes too little, too late for more than 100 people who have died homeless in Perth since the start of the pandemic.”
Earlier this week another small community of tents appeared outside a 100-bed facility opened by the state government in Northbridge which is still only partially occupied. Mr Noakes said within four hours they’d been cleared from the streets and put into temporary accommodation.
“It reads like tent cities might be the most effective strategy to end homelessness we’ve ever seen in Western Australia.”
Anglicare CEO Mark Glasson, writing in the same publication as Mr Piu, also pondered at the success of Tent City.
“Tent City remains a divisive issue in Western Australia,” Mr Glasson wrote.
“On the one hand, it was seen as the work of trouble making anarchists, and on the other hand, it was seen as a vital catalyst in drawing public attention and resources to an issue that was in need of a heightened focus.
“Either could be true, and in parts, both probably are.
“Nevertheless, the whole episode raised important questions for the sector about our approach to advocacy; should we influence government solely from inside the tent?
“Will this limit or hinder our objectives or maximise the opportunity to achieve them.”
Mr Piu said the disruption caused by the pandemic had triggered innovation and accelerated action, while the HEART project fostered a close relationship with the Department of Communities.
“Indeed, a staff member from the department was seconded to work for St Pats to lead the project, reinforcing a trusted partnership between service providers and the department’s service delivery arm to deliver and effective and client-centred response.”
Mr Piu said there were considerable challenges looming with Covid growing in WA, but he saw cause for optimism with the state government’s Housing First approach to tackling homelessness and the commitment for new social housing.