Perfect storm sees homelessness in WA soar

A “perfect storm” of soaring rents, rock bottom vacancy rates and the cost of living crisis has plunged thousands of West Australians into homelessness. 

New data from Shelter WA has revealed soaring demand for homelessness services in the state, with 5100 people every day seeking assistance.

That figure has jumped by 1100 people, or 27.5 per cent, in the five years since the 2017-2018 financial year.

In the 2022-2023 financial year, the study also found 1100 people reported sleeping rough in the month before seeking help, which is almost double the 553 people five years ago.

Requests for help are also going unmet, with 75 unable to find assistance every day, up 32 per cent from five years ago.

“Homelessness services from Bunbury to Broome and beyond are struggling to cope with surging demand,” Shelter WA Chief Executive Officer Kath Snell said.

“Right now we have a perfect storm of soaring rents, rock bottom vacancy rates and a cost of living crisis, which is plunging more and more people into distress.

“People who have never asked for help in their lives are experiencing homelessness for the first time.”

Ms Snell said the State Government’s $24.4 million Rent Relief Program and $47.6 million for 15 homelessness services was important and welcome in the sector, but more needed to be done to meet increasing demand. 

She called for an average 25 per cent funding boost to homelessness services, worth about $56.25 million a year, so they can meet demand.

Ms Snell also requested a one-off payment of about $30.75 million to homelessness services to address indexation shortfalls over the past 10 years and ignificant additional investment into rapid accommodation solutions to end rough sleeping in WA.

Uniting WA Co-CEO Michael Chester said the Tranby Engagement Hub in Perth had seen an “overwhelming” increase in demand for its services.

“The Tranby Engagement Hub had a 61 per cent increase in demand between 2022 and 2023,” he said.

“Two weeks ago, we recorded our highest number ever of daily presentations, with 440 requests for assistance, compared with 80 per day in 2009. 

“Our new normal is about 250-300 requests for assistance per day currently.

“We acknowledge the significant investments being made under the Cook government into social housing and homelessness services, but the funding has to reflect demand. 

“We’d love to see a Budget this year that recognises the reality on the ground and helps us end homelessness together.”

Shelter WA is also calling on the government to fund interim, rapid accommodation solutions while we wait for more social housing to be built.

These include the conversion of vacant or underutilised properties, prefabricated or tiny homes on vacant government land, and granny flats for social housing tenants to accommodate extended family.

“The recent changes to regulations making the building of granny flats easier have been welcomed, and help support this advocacy ask,” said Ms Snell.

“If we simply wait for long-term social and affordable housing to be built, we fear the number of Western Australians falling into rough sleeping and housing insecurity will continue to rise.

“We must address this crisis with long-term and short-term solutions, including deploying rapid accommodation to get people out of precarious housing and into safe homes.

“We recognise all that this government has already done, but the government’s bold target to end rough sleeping by 2025 also requires more investment into these solutions.”

Pilbara Community Legal Service Team Leader Housing Support, Angie Mitchell, said times were really tough for those searching for housing.

“The rental market in our region is extremely competitive, and median rent is $1,100 a week – so people in financial difficulty have no hope of securing private housing,” she said.

“Seeing the despair on people’s faces when you deliver this news is heartbreaking.

“We urgently need more temporary and emergency accommodation, particularly for single men who are last on the social housing waitlist.”

Goldfields Indigenous Housing Organisation CEO Merri Best said there had been a significant increase in the number of visitors and the complexity of their needs. 

“With high rents and almost zero available properties in our region, we are assisting a new cohort of people who have never asked us for help before,” she said.

“Every day families and individuals are turned away because services are stretched to the limit. 

“We desperately need at least two more 24/7 crisis centres and more accommodation options.”

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