06/08/2008 - 22:00

Managing a difficult journey

06/08/2008 - 22:00

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The Passages Resource Centre in Northbridge says guiding marginalised Western Australians out of homelessness means overcoming the cycle of unemployment, health problems and, in many cases, substance abuse.

The Passages Resource Centre in Northbridge says guiding marginalised Western Australians out of homelessness means overcoming the cycle of unemployment, health problems and, in many cases, substance abuse.

With an estimated 12,000 people homeless every night in WA, the not-for-profit community centre struggles to cater for the growing number of young people seeking accommodation.

Passages coordinator Danielle Tilbrook said once people became homeless, few were able to re-enter the mainstream without professional assistance.

Ms Tilbrook said that, with as many as 20 marginalised people walking through the centre's Palmerston Street doors daily, helping what she calls "street present" people involved more than simply providing shelter.

"It becomes a never-ending cycle where people lose their employment, they leave school, their health and hygiene start to suffer because they don't go to the doctor's or dentist, and very often they get issues and their health starts to deteriorate," she told WA Business News.

"Most have drug- and alcohol-related problems somewhere along the line, but more often it is family breakdown the triggers it.

"Abuse can play a part, or they get kicked out of home, and then there's the loss of jobs, and all this is recurring.

"So they come here and once they're ready to start working on their issues we look at putting them into one of our accommodation programs, which works like any other tenancy, called a life skills program.

"Our accommodation worker visits those clients every week and they work on basic life skills like cooking and cleaning, even shopping.

"People living on the streets for a long time only live day-to-day, they don't know how to cook or clean, and if they went into any other tenancy they'd probably lose it quickly because they don't know how to maintain a unit.

"So we're not just giving free accommodation; they still have to pay rent [about $50 a week], but we teach them the necessary basic skills."

The establishment of Passages had its origins in 1996, when Rotary International convened a meeting with delegates from around the world to discuss ways to foster "urban peace", including dealing with the homeless and drug-related issues.

In 1998, a joint venture between the Rotary Club of Perth and the Society of St Vincent de Paul was established, with support from the Anglican and Catholic Archdioceses of Perth, the Military and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, and the St John of God Foundation.

Rotarian and mining executive David Reed was elected chairman of the joint venture, with Passages formed in 1999 to offer homeless youth (those aged from 12 to 25 years) the opportunity to feel safe and supported.

Mr Reed said while the definition of homelessness had changed somewhat, so too had the approach to dealing with people on the streets, evidenced by Passages' life skills program.

"If you talk about someone being homeless now, it isn't a person living under a sheet on the footpath, it's someone who hasn't got a stable home, who gets kicked from pillar to post and lives at a mate's place and then moves on because 'home' isn't safe," he said.

"What we try to do is not pre-judge anyone, put all their issues in the background and allow them to make a new start and get them back into the mainstream."

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