Have a heart

• Volunteers Peter and Brian cook up a storm in St Pat’s Day Centre kitchen in Fremantle.

KIRRA’S* work colleagues probably thought everything was okay – she had a partner, a decent job and was studying to become a lawyer – but the reality was very different.

At night she was sleeping rough in her car with her two children, fleeing domestic violence at home. 

Due to soaring rents and the tight rental market she couldn’t afford safe, suitable accomodation and didn’t have any family to turn to for help.

St Pat’s Community Support Centre CEO Michael Piu said that Kirra, like a lot of people, didn’t regard herself as homeless.

“She believed that being homeless meant having nothing and sleeping under the stars and because she was employed and studying, didn’t think she’d be eligible to access supports,” Mr Piu says.

“As a First Nation’s woman, she was also distrustful of traditional institutions and preferred to rely on her considerable skills and personal strength to support her young family.

“She was hiding from her colleagues and classmates that every night she was facing the stress and uncertainty of homelessness.”

Thankfully St Pat’s came to Kirra’s aid and managed to help this “incredible young woman” move into appropriate accomodation.

Winter can be the hardest time of year for the homeless, so if you want to help people like Kirra then donate some clothing and toiletries to the Heart for the Homeless appeal, who pass them onto WA shelters including St Pat’s in Fremantle.

“St Pat’s receive men’s and women’s tracksuits, socks, summer sleeping bags and fleece blankets,” Mr Piu says.

“The latter two are particularly useful for people sleeping rough, as they dry quickly, are easy to air out and don’t smell when wet, like a woollen blanket or thick sleeping bag might.

“Men’s socks and tracksuits are also really important, as they’re items of clothing which can greatly increase people’s comfort and protect them against the cold, be it sleeping in the frigid night air, in a car or going about their lives day-to-day.”

St Pats are planning to upgrade its ageing facilities on Queen Victoria and Beach Streets into a new six-storey community and accommodation facility for the homeless.

Mr Pius says their existing 22 short-stay rooms, built in the 1960s as overnight accomodation for sailors, are no longer “fit for purpose”.

“We propose to move our service delivery ‘front door’ – our Community Centre – to our Beach Street warehouse, which we would then transform through internal renovations to comfortably house and enhance our service suite while also creating a warm, welcoming place for all in our community,” Mr Piu says.

“We would also like to create a social enterprise café and dining space to serve the whole community.

“This would help activate the Beach Street area, and by creating an inviting and friendly space that will also help us reach a broader cross-section of people.

“This in turn will improve our ability to target early intervention programs to identify and support people who may be at risk.

“Whilst the state government has been investing in expansion of specialist support services, the challenge particularly in the current housing and construction market is securing suitable long-term housing options. 

“To help break this cycle of disadvantage we want to re-build our current accommodation 

to provide 28 long-term, self-contained apartments.

“If we as a community truly want to end homelessness, we need to give people more than a bed for the night.”

It’s estimated that more than 9000 West Australians experience homelessness every night, with 13 per cent of those sleeping rough under 12 years old.

Mr Piu is urging people to donate items to the Heart for the Homeless appeal: “There are many people across WA doing it tough this winter, having to face the difficult choice of paying rent or putting food on the table…” 

The appeal runs throughout July. To find out where to drop off items see 98five.com/heart-for-the-homeless-collection-appeal

*not real name


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