CSSWA Symposium highlights need for community to do more

23 Dec 2021

By Contributor

By Steve McDermott, CSSWA

The inaugural Catholic Social Services Western Australia Symposium ‘Walking with his People‘ held on 24 and 25 November at Newman Siena attracted a wide range of speakers from leaders within the Catholic welfare service delivery.

Dr Martin Drum and Dr Robbie Busch from the University of Notre Dame presented their talk on Poverty, Homelessness and Migrants in WA.

Dr Drum mentioned the growing number of women over the age of 55 suffering homelessness.

The talk highlighted the urgency of the social housing situation in Western Australia with over 1000 properties being sold over the last five years. Dr Busch also mentioned that the public perception of what is acceptable regarding a homeless person needs to be addressed. ‘Housing is a human right’ said Dr Drum.

“Many homeless people can present themselves as regular members of the community by accessing showering facilities and clothing from welfare providers, thus preventing looking like the stereotypical ragged individual walking the streets.”

This led to a talk by MyHome Senior Architect Michelle Blakeley, who spoke about the role the Catholic community can play providing a solution to homelessness.

Ms Blakeley said that along with the Archdiocesan properties, St Patricks Community Housing Provider are building units that will provide accommodation and a sense of community for women over the age of 55 in Dianella.

The situation in a social housing provision has remained static for 20 years with approximately the same number of houses available.

Ms Blakeley outlined the ‘triangle’ system that could provide social housing into the future.

“Land could be utilised from the church or state, private sector funding could be used to build houses, with an attractive return on their investment,” she said.

“Non-government agencies could then be used to run or maintain the properties.

“Innovative use of material resulted in low power bills.”

Some 17,320 WA households are on the waitlist for housing and approximately 9,000 people in WA are experiencing homelessness” said Centrecare Inc Adj Prof Tony Pietropiccolo.

“These are the hard facts and that without more investment, it would take 1300 years to house every person from the waitlist.”

Michael King from Centacare Broome provided a video that showcased a successful program enabling Aboriginal people to purchase houses within the Broome region.

The delegates also learned how the social welfare agencies adapted their business model to continue their services during the pandemic. Archdiocesan Manager Governance and Corporate Services Julie Fuge said that Archdiocesan agencies had to quickly change their protocols to safely deliver their support in both parishes and community.

St Patrick’s Community Support Centre, CEO Michael Piu, provided a stimulating session on how they used innovation to continue delivering services to the homeless and disadvantaged. They provided chef prepared meals with their Doorstep Dinners initiative with almost 200 local volunteers helping in delivering the food into their client’s home.

Professor Francis Campbell (Vice Chancellor, University of Notre Dame Australia), Rev Dcn Greg Lowe (Director, West Australian Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office), and Ms Katie Hunt (Strategy and Risk Office, Catholic Education Western Australia) teamed up to introduce the delegates to the current reality of Modern Slavery and to examine what organisations can do to reduce the impact of contributing to modern slavery in their supply chains.

The symposium was a resounding success and facilitated much discussion and debate amongst presenters and attendees.