ST Bartholomew’s House marks a major milestone this year, having provided support services for the state’s homeless for 50 years.
Yet while the anniversary is some cause for celebration of a job well done, demand for St Bart’s services continues to grow despite Western Australia’s economic success in recent years.
The 2011 census estimated there were more than 9,500 homeless people in WA, but support providers say the true number is likely to be substantially higher, due in part to the difficulty in quantifying the number of people in temporary or insecure accommodation.
While the state government has made substantial investments in social housing, there has been a significant rise in the number of Western Australians accessing crisis and transitional accommodation amid extremely tight conditions in the private rental market.
St Bart’s began life in 1963 out the back of an old Anglican Church rectory in East Perth and has since grown to provide crisis, transitional and aged care accommodation for people homeless or at risk of homelessness, as well as mental health support and independent-living assistance.
The group moved into its new $34 million, 148-bed Lime Street facility last year, funded by the state and federal governments and private donations.
St Bart’s chief executive Andrew Hogan said early intervention was critical when it came to investing in homeless support services, particularly given the tough budgetary environment.
“There are a lot of needless admissions to hospitals and prisons and remand centres because people get into situations where they’re desperate and they don’t know what else to do,” Mr Hogan told Business News.
“Those services are incredibly expensive to run, and they choke it up for everyone else. If we invest in support services, hopefully you see savings down the track by keeping people out of those situations.”
Mr Hogan said while the stereotype of homelessness was frequently of older males or young drug addicts, such views were not reflected in the clientele at St Bart’s Lime Street premises.
“On any one given night in that place, up to 20 per cent of the homeless people living in there have got a tertiary education,” he said.
“There’s a whole host of reasons, whether it’s mental illness, relationship breakdowns, drugs and alcohol, redundancy or domestic violence.
“We get people who’ve been gainfully employed, people who’ve been professionals, tradies working on the mines. It’s a varied group.”
Studies also show a growing portion of WA’s homeless population is made up of younger people, often moving between temporary and insecure accommodation.
The Home Is Where My Heart Is exhibition, a joint initiative of the Youth Affairs Council of WA and Propel Youth Arts WA, aims to shed light on this changing face of homelessness.
The annual exhibition displays photographs taken by young people who have experienced homelessness capturing their interpretation of ‘home’, with the assistance of emerging photographers who act as mentors to the youths.
The exhibition runs until this Sunday, August 18, at 192 William St, Northbridge (next to the State Theatre Centre).