Homelessness rates continue to skyrocket in Australia and abroad, and contrary to popular opinion it is not only ‘drug addicts’ and ‘undesirables’ who find themselves in such a predicament. Indeed, many every day Australians are suffering from mortgage stress and high rents, making housing affordability and lack of ‘stock’ for public housing a big issue.
Furthermore, government departments have until now opted to ‘fix’ the issue with heartless and inhumane solutions, such as the sprinkler system installed at the King Street Arts Centre (Perth) to drench and deter homeless people from sleeping on the brick paving in the middle of Winter.1 Violence and sexual predation are genuine dangers for the homeless, as they are forced to move from squat to park to alleyway.
At Sydney’s largest commuter point, the monolith and labyrinth-like Central Railway Station, the homeless gather at night inside and outside this commuter hub. They sleep alongside each other during winter as temperatures reach zero Celsius. They gather at Central because for the most part it renders a safe space away from the vulnerability to various violence and sexual predation that are the reality of the alleyways, squats and parks.2
Matargarup at Heirisson Island is providing a safe space and sheltering scores of homeless, yet the camp has been raided nine times in four months (over Winter) by the City of Perth shire and their police escort. Each raid has stranded families, toddlers, babies, the elderly without any shelter or essentials, and without the safe space that they have come to know. The City is currently in possession of roughly 200 tents and of all the essentials that the homeless used. With few homeless programs (closed on weekends) and a massive shortage in crisis accommodation, it is clear our fellow humans are in dire need of assistance, and a solution is well overdue.3
Advocates for the homeless, Gerry Georgatos and Jennifer Kaeshagen say homeless friendly precincts must be established across the board as a minimum standard in response to homelessness. A homeless friendly precinct provides a safe space we can meet again and again; a reference point for various services to wraparound the homeless and assist more easily. A groundswell of support is lending hope to the establishment of homeless friendly precincts, and we ask for your help in pushing them across the line. Gerry says:
Homeless friendly precincts are in the least a few hundred square metres of showers, laundries, small storage facilities, a treatment area, safe space, even an area where services can attend; something as simple as a rostered barber. I have spent more than 20 years assisting the homeless and there is the recurring cry, ‘I just want to shower daily, wash up, feel clean, somewhere to store my stuff…’ This is the most basic sliver of dignity we can provide. Psychosocially it’ll make a significant difference.”4
Mayors from various jurisdictions of Perth (City of Wanneroo Mayor Tracey Roberts, City of Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt and City of Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi) and Shelter South Australia Director, Dr Alice Clark have pledged their support.
More significantly, as Jennifer Kaeshagen, Director of the First Nations Homelessness Project states, “It’s time for homeless friendly precincts. Safe spaces where people experiencing homelessness can go to 24/7, no waiting lists, no questions asked – people’s privacy, sensitivities respected. Places where the compassionate public can drop off donations to. Places designated, designed for people experiencing homelessness, places they will not be moved on from, shamed. Places that belong to them.”
True to their ethos, Gerry and Jenny’s homeless friendly precincts have the power and potential to change and save many lives. If we can help Gerry and Jenny establish these precincts in every major hub of Perth, this will provide a template for the rest of the nation.
Join us live Sunday night, 9pm Sydney time to lend your shoulder to the homeless, and your support for homeless friendly precincts; restoring dignity to the homeless.
Gerry Georgatos is a life-long human rights and social justice campaigner, and a multi-award winning investigative journalist. His predominant work is in suicide prevention research and in unveiling racism and in articulating the ways forward. Some of his stories on homelessness in First Nations communities have led to many people housed and to restorative cultural projects. His social justice campaigns include his ongoing work with the homeless, asylum seekers, people in prison and post-release, his anti-drugs campaigns, fighting racism and discrimination, and his freedom of speech campaigns.
Jennifer Kaeshagen is an award winning documentary filmmaker. She has Unit co-ordinated, lectured and tutored in Media and Communications Studies at The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle and Murdoch University, and is currently completing her PhD – The phenomenology of the biopic.
Jennifer is the Founder, Principal Editor and Producer of of The Stringer. She coordinates various advocacy through The Stringer, and has been successful in housing homeless families and individuals via The First Nations Homelessness Project.