Record numbers of homeless people in Rockingham leaves advocate calling for quick fix accommodation

Rachel FennerSound Telegraph
Ronnie sleeps in the back of her car.
Camera IconRonnie sleeps in the back of her car. Credit: PerthNow

An advocate for the homeless says the Peel region is in a crisis and needs a solution to record numbers of people sleeping rough.

Shelter WA’s State Government budget submission released last week includes three options for affordable housing, including a billion-dollar package to add 20,000 affordable homes to the market.

But Peel Connect’s night carers co-ordinator Chelsea Gildea says short-term solutions including temporary night shelters are needed right now.

Peel Connect operates crisis accommodation, offers counselling and provides emergency relief to people experiencing homelessness.

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“Housing is a permanent fix; we are in a crisis situation and we need a crisis solution, we need a night shelter,” Ms Gildea said.

“We’ve had to close the doors because we’re so busy.

“The biggest issue is cost of living. We’re seeing lots of elderly people, single parents and a lot of domestic violence.”

A list compiled by a group called Advance to Zero estimates that homelessness in Rockingham has increased from 101 people in February 2023 to 188 in February this year.

In February 2021, there were just 37 people identified as homeless in Rockingham.

Jay, who asked the Sound Telegraph not to use his last name, has been sleeping in his ute along Rockingham’s coast since his lease ran out in December last year.

He believes the number of people sleeping rough ranges more in the thousands.

“I went on a ride in my Harley to check it out — from Falcon to Fremantle, I reckon there’s about 1000 people sleeping in their cars,” he said.

Ronnie and Jay’s “homes”.
Camera IconRonnie and Jay’s “homes”. Credit: Rachel Fenner

“It’s mind-blowing. To see solo mums with kids breaks my heart. I’ve seen vets as well. It’s disgusting.”

Jay said he stopped applying for rentals when 50 people, including single mums with children, would show up.

After recent major surgery, he was discharged to sleep in his ute.

“Trying to crawl in and out of my ute was hard,” he said.

Ronnie sleeps on a cot mattress in the back seat of her car parked not far from Jay’s.

Ronnie sleeps in the back of her car on a cot mattress.
Camera IconRonnie sleeps in the back of her car on a cot mattress. Credit: Rachel Fenner

Ronnie did not want her last name used as she doesn’t feel safe sleeping in her car.

“There’s these young girls who are on the streets and they don’t even have a car,” she said.

“Another friend is in the bush with children. It’s so sad, especially for these mums.

“I don’t like to be called homeless because I have a home, my car; some people don’t even have that.”

She said the cost of living and the amount of competition for rentals had left her feeling hopeless.

“There’s 30 to 40 people lined up and I don’t even bother because why would they give me a house when I’m on a benefit,” she said.

“I’m 51 and never thought I’d be in this situation.”

Numbers provided to the City of Rockingham by St Patrick’s Community Support Centre reveal just three people experiencing homelessness had transitioned into stable accommodation in January this year.

This is in comparison to the 112 people St Patrick’s referred to service organisations.

Ronnie said cleaners would leave toilets unlocked for them overnight and praised the City of Rockingham for not issuing fines or move-on notices.

Rockingham mayor Deb Hamblin said the provision of housing and temporary accommodation for people experiencing homelessness was a State Government responsibility but the city had been funding an assertive outreach service for three years.

“We understand the impact on those people affected by the housing crisis and increased cost of living and provide information on our website about where to find support at rockingham.wa.gov.au/lookingforhelp,” she said.

The city’s community safety and support services strategy 2022-2027 found financial difficulties and housing affordability stress were the top two reasons for individuals at risk of homelessness.

ShelterWA chief executive Kath Snell said the crisis had become so overwhelming that in Perth, only four in 10 people were getting any kind of assistance.

“WA’s housing crisis is breaking all the wrong records but we have an incredible opportunity to solve it with this Budget,” Ms Snell said.

“After five years of large surpluses and a GST windfall, the Government must centre this year’s Budget on housing and homelessness.”

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