First Nations Homelessness Project preventing evictions across Perth

First Nations children

With the highest rate of Indigenous children removed by child protection authorities, over 3,000 First Nations children are currently in the care of the State.

Many have fled and are either transient or street-present homeless.

As a result, Western Australia now has among the nation’s highest rates of Indigenous children who are street-present homeless.

We have experienced mothers on the streets—rough sleepers—with their newborns. There are toddlers on the streets. They sleep on pavements and in parks, alleyways, and other squats; exposed and vulnerable to the elements.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, First Peoples comprise at least one in four of Australia’s street-present homeless. In Western Australia, they comprise more than half of the street-present homeless.

What will it take for Governments to house homeless children and street-present families with children as young as babies?

It took a video capturing the excruciating death of George Floyd to galvanise civil dissent globally. Yet there have been countless such deaths over decades, during our lifetimes. The body counts mount.

Do we have to wait for excruciating video footage of homelessness; of a homeless woman abused; of a homeless man beaten to a pulp by passers-by; of a homeless child sexually assaulted?

Jennifer Kaeshagen has spent more than half a decade working with the most vulnerable.


First Nations Homelessness Project

In February 2015, Kaeshagen set up a volunteer group, the First Nations Homelessness Project (FNHP). This volunteer group supported the homeless and inspired many of Perth’s good citizens, with the volunteer base eventually exceeding 1,500.

The FNHP housed homeless young families, but soon found many more families at risk of eviction. During 2016 and 2017 the organisation prevented the eviction of one First Nations family after another. Soon they would be inundated.

To slowly but surely chip away at the growing numbers, the FNHP took a triage-based approach. The eligibility criteria prioritised First Nations families with young children who had been issued a termination notice by the Department of Housing.

The FNHP model is based on assertive outreach and intense psychosocial support. They work with families to address the underlying factors which led to a termination notice or final warning before termination notice being issued in the first place.

They also work with families to reduce the future risk of eviction. The FNHP supports families long-term to improve their circumstances, recognising that these families are among the poorest in the state.

A small team of 14, the FNHP’s reputation has flourished to the unprecedented extent that the Department of Housing and the courts step back and let the organisation do their work.

The FNHP has a 95.8 percent success rate of preventing evictions. Where an eviction has not been preventable, the FNHP has on every occasion ensured transition to a relatively positive circumstance and continued their support.

The FNHP has been a beacon for those struggling in Perth’s social housing scene. Western Australia has the nation’s highest eviction rate of families from social housing:

In the last three financial years, the number of evicted families has exceeded 500:

  • 680 families evicted 2016-17
  • 562 families evicted 2017-18
  • 589 families evicted 2018-19.

These figures have been provided by the Department of Housing—and half the evictions were of First Nations families.

Unfunded until October 2017, the FNHP thrived off donations and goodwill. The Commonwealth’s National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) has funded the FNHP since, allocating $1 million per year to the project.

The WA Government is yet to fund this Perth-based project.


NIAA on board

Since the NIAA came on board the FNHP has prevented over 300 evictions of First Nations families—mostly of single parent or single carer families. This has equated to more than 1,200 children with a home instead of on the street.

FNHP psychosocial tenancy outreach worker and Noongar woman, Mona Yarran, said she loves seeing the difference she makes to others’ lives with her work.

“What drives me is that working with grassroot community brings me the joy when a family knows that someone is actually there to help them, but also giving the family the strength to take control of their own life and getting back on their feet,” Yarran said.

“We lift up [and] encourage the families to empower themselves [to] get back to leading their own family.”

Kaeshagen said the FNHP has a tight-knit team.

“Each of us [know] what each other does and [we intertwine] our different expertise,” she said.

“It’s often said organisations and services work in silos, independent from each other, but it’s true of workplaces too. Collaboration is vital and we do our best to take collaboration within our team and with the families to the levels needed.

“The closeness of our outreach workers, accountable to each other, soaking up each other’s work, improves the support to affected families. This is a form of transparency and professional development often lacking. We live and breathe one another and as a result keep our eyes on the ball: the families.”



Mandurah, Rockingham councils unite to help homeless

Tackling homelessness

Mandurah and its neighbouring cities are teaming up to tackle homelessness south of Perth.

Last week the City of Rockingham passed a motion to lobby the State Government to build its second Common Ground facility in either Mandurah, Rockingham or Kwinana.

With a similar motion expected to come before the Mandurah council on the 23rd, Mayor Rhys Williams told the Times he welcomed the City of Rockingham’s decision.

Last year the State Government pledged $72 million, including funding for two Common Ground facilities, to house and support people sleeping rough.

The facilities offer a mix of permanent, affordable housing and are linked with services to tackle the root causes of homelessness.

One of the facilities will be built in the CBD, but the location of the other is yet to be announced.

Community Services Minister Simone McGurk welcomed the action but couldn’t commit to building the facility in Rockingham, Kwinana or Mandurah.

“A range of local government areas are being considered for the second Common Ground facility, to ensure it is located in an area where there is high demand for such a facility and the LGA also has the necessary infrastructure in place to support residents, such as public transport and local amenities,” she said.

City of Mandurah Mayor Rhys Williams.
City of Mandurah Mayor Rhys Williams. Credit: Jake Dietsch/RegionalHUB

Mayor Williams said Mandurah had been working with Rockingham and other local governments in its response to supporting homeless people.

“We’ve got a report coming to council in June that looks at the next step,” he said.

“We certainly believe there needs to be an increase in services in this corridor and in the southern corridor.”

Mr Williams said on June 23 council would receive recommendations from staff on the next steps and would then consider specific locations.

He said there were “a lack of resources for street present people and a lack of facilities south of Perth” and the second Common Ground facility should be built somewhere in the “southern corridor”.

The City of Rockingham also voted to lobby the government for “assertive outreach”.

Mr Williams said Mandurah had been in discussions with the state government for the past year and was finalising an agreement to fund case workers based in the city centre.

“The basis of the assertive outreach model is that there are people with expertise, working with vulnerable people in and around the city centre, working with police, security and the services providers to make sure those that are street present are getting the assistance they need,” he said.

“We’re getting some real traction in getting those services rolled out in Mandurah, which I think is a key gap in terms of the services that we’ve got.”

Mr Williams said an agreement with the state government would be done ”anytime now”.

“Once an agreement is in place, we’ll be going out to find a provider,” he said.

“We have approached the state government for them to allocate some resources to a two-year trial in Mandurah.”

WA Minister for Community Services Simone McGurk and Department of Communities director general Michelle Andrews teamed up with Big Issue vendors Ron and Raylene.
WA Minister for Community Services Simone McGurk and Department of Communities director general Michelle Andrews teamed up with Big Issue vendors Ron and Raylene. Credit: supplied/supplied

St Benedict’s Homeless Foundation chair Michael Kiernan is building a women’s shelter in the Shire of Murray next year and said there were “very few” larger facilities for the homeless south of Perth.

“Desperately, south of Perth, particularly the Rockingham, Kwinana, Mandurah areas do need the Common Ground,” Mr Kiernan said.

“But with the Common Ground there have got to be what is colloquially referred to as wrap around services. We just can’t take a homeless person or a person form the street or the bush and stick them into a room and say that’s it.

“What is so important, is to provide services to transition the homeless people back into society.”

Federal cash on its way to local non-profits

Ryan Erb, executive director of United Way Perth-Huron.

More help is coming

More help is coming to local non-profit organizations stretched thin by the ongoing pandemic.

Those organizations addressing the needs of vulnerable community members impacted by COVID-19 will be able to apply for access to the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund this week.

In Perth and Huron counties, including Stratford and St. Marys, about $600,000 from the $350-million fund will be managed by United Way Perth-Huron and the Stratford Perth Community Foundation. Both are part of a national effort to distribute the money that includes their parent organizations and the Canadian Red Cross.

“This additional funding is a critical boost for local organizations supporting vulnerable populations in our communities affected by COVID-19,” said Heidi Culliton, the Stratford Perth Community Foundation’s executive director. “Local charities and non-profits have been tirelessly in service to those who need it most right now. We look forward to flowing funds quickly to support critical needs in our region so that no one is left behind.”

Roughly $400,000, will be in the hands of the United Way to distribute to organizations in both Perth and Huron counties. Ryan Erb, executive director of United Way Perth-Huron, said a weekly teleconference with local non-profit sector leaders on Thursday will help clear up questions about how to apply for funding. He expects to begin announcing successful applicants as soon as next week.

“We know that many people need help on a regular basis, and what this crisis has done for us is put it more in focus,” Erb said. “We’re actually now starting to use the term new vulnerable (for) those that perhaps lost their jobs and don’t qualify for some of the support right now, or maybe they’re working less than they were before and … they’re barely making enough to put food on their table. Despite … a great effort by government at all levels, there are still many people that fall through the cracks.”

The Stratford Perth Community Foundation will be delivering about $200,000 in Stratford, St. Marys and surrounding Perth County. Culliton said local organizations are being encouraged to apply to only one funder. More information can be found on each organization’s website, or by phone.

“(Non-profits) are on the front lines and they’re serving critical needs and we want to make sure they just know that we’re both here and that the best thing they can do is give us a quick call,” Culliton said. “We’re still going to make sure every application is vetted carefully and I think our most important goal is … seeing this funding be fast and flexible and reaching out to ensure who needs it most gets the (support).”

Both the United Way and the Stratford Perth Community Foundation have been raising funds locally to support the work of area charities and nonprofits, especially to address concerns such as food insecurity and the social and physical isolation of seniors.

The Canadian Red Cross did not say Tuesday how much of the funds they are managing might end up Perth and Huron, but a spokesperson said the organization is reaching out to communities through its local branches while accepting applications online from non-profits across the country.