04/08/2022 - 12:20

Call for business leaders to help end homelessness

04/08/2022 - 12:20

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Newly appointed boss of the WA Alliance to End Homelessness David Pearson said it was not ‘normal’ for a city like Perth to have high numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

Call for business leaders to help end homelessness
David Pearson is also the chief executive of the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness.

Newly appointed boss of the WA Alliance to End Homelessness David Pearson said it was not ‘normal’ for a prosperous city like Perth to have high numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

Mr Pearson, who was appointed to his role last week, is also the chief executive of the organisation’s national counterpart, the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness.

He has a background in politics, serving as an advisor to Senator Penny Wong and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

Most recently, he was the executive director of The Don Dunstan Foundation, a South Australian-based not for profit with broad objectives, including work to eradicate homelessness.

His position, as well as the appointment of the organisation's former executice officer John Berger to the role of director of engagement and strategic projects, Michala McMahon as director of practice and improvement, Royceton Hardey as social media manager, and manager communications and events Sarah Quinton, were funded by the Sisters of St John of God, who are supporting the alliance’s work for the next four years.

Speaking to Business News in Homelessness Week, Mr Pearson said the number of people living on the streets in Perth was unacceptable.

“In a city as prosperous as Perth and in a state as prosperous as WA, it’s not normal to have people on the street while traders are trying to do their business,” Mr Pearson said.  

“It’s not good for the image of Perth, it’s not good for the people in the city.”

According to data compiled by Ruah Community Services' Zero Project, there were 718 people experiencing homelessness in June 2022. 

The organisations he heads operate on the principal that ending homelessness is possible, taking inspiration from communities around the world that have achieved it.

“Ending homelessness needs to be the strategy, not moving it,” Mr Pearson said.

“Moving it out of Perth just shifts it into Fremantle and makes it someone else’s problem.

“We need to end the problem; we need to solve people’s homelessness.”

He said about 16 local government areas in the United States and two in Canada had eradicated homelessness, while Finland had ensured all families had a home.

“What it takes is place-based, data-driven effort,” Mr Pearson said.

In his new role, Mr Pearson said he was hoping to apply lessons learned from around the world and Australia to a WA context.

He said an effective starting point was to identify how many people were experiencing homelessness in a particular area and knowing them by name.

Mr Pearson stressed the importance of all levels of government and business working together to solve the issue and appealed to business owners and corporates to speak up about the need to end homelessness.

“It’s all well and good for the social workers in the homelessness sector to say that but when you have small business leaders that are grappling with this problem in downtown Perth or you have business leaders in the corporate sector generally, that has a lot more weight sometimes," he said.

“We want to help get those voices into the discussion.”

He said his overall priority in the top job was to accelerate the implementation of the alliance’s Strategy to End Homelessness.

It has the goal of ending all forms of chronic homelessness and ensuring no individual or family will sleep rough or stay in supported accommodation for longer than five nights before moving into an affordable home by 2028.

The strategy uses a Housing First Approach which prioritises moving people experiencing homelessness into appropriate housing as quickly as possible.

This differs from the traditional method of addressing why someone was homeless, like mental illness or addictions, before they are housed.

Mr Pearson said research conducted by the alliance found it was cheaper to provide people on the streets with housing than it was to have members of society moving in and out of homelessness.

The WA Alliance to End Homelessness’ steering group is co-chaired by Anglicare WA director of services Philippa Boldy and Allan Connolly, who has lived experience of homelessness, and includes members from Housing Choices Australia, Shelter WA, the Centre for Social Impact and St Patrick's Community Support Centre.

It was establised in 2016 and completed its Strategy to End Homelessness in 2018. 

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