I am a big fan of the monthly Fremantle Network events at the National Hotel because we can hear first hand and face to face what is going on in Fremantle and the vision people have for our city. We can contribute by sharing ideas and asking questions, so that we can make informed decisions.
Last night TFN presented Victor Crevatin who is the director for homelessness and support services at St Patrick’s, which was established in Fremantle in 1972.
Victor told us that 200 people a day come to Freo’s St Pats and that they provided 16,300 meals in six months, some of them served by primary school volunteers. They also provided 1,800 free health services in the six months.
Crevatin said St Pats were branching out and diversifying their services, reaching out to women with The Sisters Place, free dental health care for homeless people, youth and mental health housing programs, women shelters, etc, but disappointingly they could not assist 300 people due to lack of resources.
The yearly Street Register counted 68 homeless people over two mornings, but there are many who don’t want to be caught and counted within the system. Nearly 60% of those counted were Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders and that is a big concern that needs to be addressed, Victor said. He also urged for a special health service for this group.
Most homeless people in Fremantle were 25 years and older and homeless for five years while those under 24 years had been homeless for six and a half years.
Victor Cretavin said that agencies needed to collaborate better but egos at management levels were often in the way and the fact that the agencies were all fighting for the same limited pot of gold of funding.
He said it was not good enough to just offer affordable housing but that support needed to be provided to the tenants to make it work. But he said affordable housing needed to be accepted by the community as there was a NIMBY attitude to providing accommodation because of perceived social issues.
“Homelessness is not going away and we need to do something together as a community!”
Cretavin said he was disappointed that the recent long Federal election campaign had not addressed homelessness and housing and he put new Fremantle MP Josh Wilson who was in the audience on the spot to say a few words about that. It was probably Josh’s first public talk since being elected.
Wilson said the challenge is one for all of us and that in real terms public housing was the same as twenty years ago. “We need a common ground model for agencies to work better together.”
The Labor party understands that homelessness is a huge issue with some 100,000 homeless people in Australia, Wilson said and that while in government Labor had a policy of halving homelessness by 2025.
Victor Cretavin then took over and told us that many homeless people were on the streets because of domestic violence, alcohol, mental health and drug issues, etc and that many are just scared. The system is so bogged down in risk assessment that it turns down people who end up living on the streets.
We need better education and plant the seeds of community awareness so the community understands the issues around homelessness better, and that should start in primary schools. “Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice!”
He said an 11-year-old boy had made 200 homelessness packs and there was scope for all kind of volunteers, even data collecting.
We are looking for small little wins, Victor said and suggested the City of Fremantle could make a carpark available for those who sleep in cars, to create a safer environment for them.
I believe if that was done portable toilets and showers would also need to be provided and of course on site security, but would the community near that designated carpark accept it and how to stop it from becoming another backpackers camping ground?
These are huge challenges but we need to address them as a community. Homelessness is not acceptable in our wealthy country and it is not a pretty sight. It’s a bit like looking in the mirror and seeing shit on your face.
I am convinced that especially here in Fremantle with all the caring and warm-hearted people we can and must do better!