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Homeless crisis: City of Fremantle ramps up support for homeless with action plan

Almost a year on from the highly visible and some say highly political Tent City that popped up in a Fremantle park, there remains close to 200 people living on the streets or sleeping rough in the port city.

Not that you’d notice while taking a stroll by day through Fremantle’s re-developed heart, Walyalup Koort, which is home to the new council building and FOMO cultural, dining and entertainment hub.

There’s very little sign of anyone sleeping rough among the open spaces surrounding the new and revamped buildings.

Fremantle Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said a ‘By Name’ count in September discovered a total of 179 people considered homeless in Fremantle, including 89 people rough sleeping.

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The numbers put into context the need for the City’s first formal Homelessness Action Plan, which has been designed to guide the council’s response and actions around an issue that extends well beyond its local government borders.

The three-year plan, which was adopted by councillors on November 24, includes training for frontline council staff such as rangers and library staff who are likely to interact with people who are homeless.

High priority actions include creating an information and crisis support services local directory, using its library as a base to link homeless people with relevant services, develop partnerships with outreach providers and continuing to push the State Government for more housing options.

Ms Fitzhardinge is hopeful the 12-point plan will have a “positive impact” for anyone homeless or sleeping rough.

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“Our homelessness plan is about focusing on evidence-based approaches that we know have a positive impact on homelessness — for example, 20 Lives 20 Homes which has already had positive results,” she said.

“Fremantle is a caring and compassionate community and we have approved a policy that ensures that if people want to provide homeless support services in the future, they need to coordinate with the council and other service providers.

“This will ensure they’re not duplicating existing services and that standards with regard to appropriate locations and health and safety are met.”

Camera IconCity of Fremantle Mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge. Credit: City of Fremantle

It comes after Fremantle’s Pioneer Park became an unexpected epicentre for the homelessness debate on Boxing Day last year, when a makeshift campsite grew to more than 50 tents and 100 residents before police shut it down almost a month later.

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That action came only once the State Government claimed back management rights of the park from the City of Fremantle.

Fremantle MLA and Community Services Minister Simone McGurk told PerthNow she was pleased with how the council’s plan connected to the State Government’s 10-year homelessness strategy.

“While the State Government is the major funder of homelessness services, homelessness is a responsibility for all layers of government, our service providers and the community,” she said.

“We need to work together to support vulnerable people find and keep homes.

“The State Government’s focus has been on delivering the WA’s first long homelessness strategy and key components, such as the Housing First Homeless Initiative and programs like 20 Lives 20 Homes Freo, which provide vulnerable people with case support and help them to find and maintain a home.

“In addition to the $108 million allocated annually to organisations to support people experiencing homelessness, this government has delivered unprecedented new investment in programs and new facilities to address homelessness.

“This work includes $18 million to establish Boorloo Bidee Mia to provide low-barrier entry, medium-term accommodation.

“Many of the first residents at the State Government’s Boorloo Bidee Mia facility were persuaded to join the Fremantle camp by activists in January 2021.

“They are in a much safer and supportive place now.”

A City of Fremantle spokesperson said the protocol for frontline staff would help staff from the community safety, customer service, library and visitor centre teams.

“Currently all City of Fremantle staff receive cultural awareness training to help them provide an empathetic response to community members and their needs,” they said.

“The new protocol will be developed to assist frontline staff respond specifically to people experiencing homelessness.”

In October, the State Government contracted St Pat’s to deliver services at Fremantle’s 100 Hampton Road, with increased funding in maintenance and continuation of accommodation for people experiencing homelessness and low income earners.

The council also adopted a new voluntary goodwill service provider policy last month, which supported the coordination of the delivery of essential services to people experiencing food insecurity and other vulnerabilities.

The plan will be reviewed within three years.

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