The West Australian exclusive

McGurk launches funding plan for rough sleepers in Geraldton

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
WA Child Protection minister Simone McGurk at Bundiyarra on Wednesday May 5 2021. Also pictured are Lara Dalton and Gordon Gray.
Camera IconWA Child Protection minister Simone McGurk at Bundiyarra on Wednesday May 5 2021. Also pictured are Lara Dalton and Gordon Gray. Credit: Geoff Vivian/The Geraldton Guardian

A Geraldton social welfare agency has been handed $2.4 million to help get rough sleepers off the streets and into housing — and support them to stay in their new homes —in a bid to tackle the city’s growing homelessness problem.

The WA Government funding is going to Geraldton’s Centacare to deliver the Housing First initiative, similar to a Perth venture which has seen four out of five formerly homeless people remain in stable accommodation after three years.

Many of these people had slept rough for at least five years before entering the program.

Community Services Minister, Simone McGurk, was in Geraldton last week and revealed the city was the next to benefit from the Housing First rollout.

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“All the evidence is that a Housing First approach has got far and away the best chance of getting good long-term outcomes for people that are homeless,” she said.

People have a case worker who identifies their long-term housing needs, secures accommodation and then gives them the support that they need, and helps organise the support they need to stay.

Ms McGurk said the case worker would first identify the suburb and type of housing the client preferred to live in, paying close attention to family or social contacts, transport routes, medical and community centres.

“There can also be some rental assistance for them but often people don’t have their Centrelink organised and their Social Security payments,” she said.

“Supports they need could be financial counselling, proper diagnosis of mental illness and ongoing treatment for that mental illness, or it could be dealing with alcohol and drug addiction issues. They maintain that support for as long as is needed for that person to maintain their tenancy.”

Ms McGurk said the work would then be evaluated externally to make sure it was effective.

She said the Geraldton Housing First Support Service contract was part of a $34.5 million initiative.

“The McGowan Government’s Housing First Homelessness Initiative draws on a proven model that has been successfully implemented in cities around the world,” she said.

I am confident it will make a big difference in our community.

Centacare director Perlin Simon said the Housing First support service was due to start in July.

A survey conducted by local community service providers last year canvassed 45 people sleeping rough in Geraldton.

The average time they had spent homeless was almost four and a half years, and they had experienced homelessness an average of 10 times in their life.

Half of those surveyed admitted to using drugs and alcohol in the past, and 60 per cent identified as having mental health issues.

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