Knowing many of Perth’s homeless people by name, Kris Halliday, along with state Member for Perth Eleni Evangel, is championing a new housing model.
It’s another cold winter night in Weld Square Reserve in Northbridge, where groups of homeless people have gathered to talk, listen to music and wait for the regular food run.
They walk towards a group of people gathered around their piles of belongings, including a woman who has ambled over, bopping along to a pop song playing loudly on her mobile phone.
Their offers of pizza, donated by an anonymous businessman, as well as hot drinks, bottles of water and sandwiches for later are well received.
After a pleasant chat, it’s off to the next stop.
As Mr Halliday continued his rounds across the city that night, he told Business News while many of Perth’s almost 10,000 homeless people suffered from substance abuse or mental health issues, increasingly, those people most recently made homeless had just fallen on hard times.
He has seen single parents living in cars with their kids and couples sleeping in abandoned buildings because they don’t want to be separated in gender-specific shelters.
He knows countless people by name and their various, often ingenious, hideouts, including one outside nib stadium that Western Force fans don’t notice as they swell out of the ground after the final siren.
Mr Halliday engages with many of the people sleeping rough, and says he works to gain their trust in the hope he can offer more formal services, such as finding housing and support services.
Ms Evangel, who has become an occasional regular on the food runs, and who worked with Mr Halliday tackling homelessness and anti-social behavior at Wellington Square in the city, is in awe of his work.
“I fondly refer to him as our angel in the night,” she said.
Ms Evangel and Mr Halliday started working together 18 months ago after receiving numerous complaints of people’s behaviour at Wellington Square, which has long been a meeting place for indigenous people.
Ms Evangel said a series of workshops, surveys and analyses with 30 stakeholders revealed many of the park’s occupants were originally from the Kimberley and Pilbara, in town temporarily to support family members who were receiving medical treatment, mostly dialysis, at the nearby Royal Perth Hospital.
“Patients would come to Perth with family and in most cases bring as many as 10 family members with them,” she said.
Ms Evangel worked to secure a $42 million state and federally funded three-year dialysis services program for the regions, so patients could receive treatments closer to home with their families by their side.
Together with business, local, and state government departments and not for profits, the group also identified improvements for the park, including early support for a 24-7 program that aims to use the Salvation Army as a single point of contact to coordinate responses to anti-social behaviour and homelessness.
“All the players came together, coordinated and united and we saw results at Wellington Square,” Mr Halliday said.
“What it’s meant unfortunately is that some of the anti-social issues have now been pushed out into other parks, particularly within the City of Vincent, so now we’re hoping to apply that collective impact single point of contact approach across the entire city so it’s not hit and miss.”
Mr Halliday is also working on a new approach to tackling homelessness based on a Melbourne program called the Nest, in which the Collingwood football club buys houses.
The Salvation Army puts tenants and social workers into the homes, developing tenants’ life skills and providing support for them to find work so they can afford their own housing later.
“The answer to homelessness is homes,” Mr Halliday said.
“We’re going to start small with one or two homes, but in Melbourne they went from one or two homes in the first year and now they’re approaching 50.”
Mr Halliday, who has been working with homeless people for 13 years, said homelessness had always been a divisive issue.
“Up until now it’s been that we blame homeless people themselves for being homeless, and now that’s flipped and we’re hearing people blame the charitable sector for causing homelessness,” he said.
“It seems people are always looking for someone to blame, but what we know is the undergirding issue around homelessness is a lack of homes.”
Mr Halliday said the issue came to a head when sprinklers were installed around the King Street Art Centre in the city recently to deter homeless people from bedding down there.
“We saw the best and the worst of Perth with the sprinkler situation. We saw a response to homelessness at its most extreme,” he said.
Mr Halliday said public goodwill for doing something for homeless people had reached an all-time high following the intervention of 15,000 people who signed a petition advocating the removal of the sprinklers.
“We saw this remarkable outpouring of compassion over cruelty and a remarkable outpouring of support for genuine solutions,” he said.
“And now the conversation has begun.
“The solution to homelessness is so simple, it’s homes; and that’s where we can all get together, the business community, the non-profit sector, and do something.”