An inner city doctor wrote to me about the problem he is experiencing with people sleeping and defecating in the verandah of his office, asking me what I would do to help if I was elected to council.
Here is my response:
Homelessness (and associated anti-social behaviour) is a complex problem and not something that council cannot fix alone.
In 2006-07, I was the business manager of “The Big Issue” in WA, working to help get people experiencing homelessness, or those at risk of homelessness back on a path of self respect, self reliance and constructive participation in the community. I was also involved in creating the “Spirit of the Streets Choir” and organizing the inaugural Gimme Shelter concert. So these are issues I am quite familiar with.
We need to work to address the causes of homelessness and social dysfunction, in addition to tackling the immediate problems they cause. Fremantle has more than its fair share of homelessness and anti social issues. As such, we must ensure that adequate services are provided to deal with them. These (mostly state government) services include crisis accommodation, counseling and mental health services, police, rehabilitation and adult education and training facilities – working in concert to help get people experiencing homelessness out of their dire situation and your front verandah.
In the first instance, I would request that police and rangers keep an eye out and move people along if they are found on your property. But it is not enough to simply shift the problem elsewhere. I would speak to those who are working in the field locally about what is required to address this problem in the longer term – a sobering up centre? more crisis accommodation? more hospital beds? better links with mental health services, Centrelink, or training providers?) and lobby to get those facilities or services provided here in Fremantle due to the obvious and unpleasant concentration of homelessness and its associated problems here in Fremantle.
To effectively reduce homelessness in the longer term, we need an integrated and coordinated approach that involves all levels of governments (across portfolios including health, police, housing, education and justice), and to develop innovative partnerships with community service providers, the not for profit sector and the business community. I would lobby heavily for new initiatives that emerge from such discussions to be introduced here in Fremantle.
In the interim, I would also ensure there is adequate (working!) lighting, encourage development and new uses for our public places that are currently underutilized and have become places where anti-social behaviour is now dominating.
I don’t have all the answers and I can’t solve all the world’s problems – but I do have some ideas, I know where to go for answers, help and funding and I have the time, energy and commitment to do my best to get it done.
I was also asked about more broad anti-social behaviour issues – which I have responded to here.