Perth homeless centre denied planning permission after community opposition

The City of Perth has refused an application to relocate a 63-year-old homeless drop-in center 200 meters around the corner, with the Lord Mayor saying the CBD and Northbridge are already “disproportionately carrying the burden” of homelessness services.

Ruah Community Services recently applied to relocate its drop-in center for homeless people on Shenton Street, Northbridge, after receiving funding to turn its existing building into a new facility for women and children escaping family and domestic violence.

The drop-in center has operated on the site since 1959 and Ruah chief executive Debra Zanella said the organization did an extensive search to find a new home in Northbridge, eventually landing on a building just 200 meters from the existing service.

“We searched for about 120 properties before we actually could find one that was appropriate and that someone wanted to lease to us,” Ms Zanella told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth.

Council officers recommended the change of use be approved but, at a City of Perth council meeting this week, an alternative resolution to turn down the application was definitively approved.

“I feel really gutted, actually,” Ms Zanella said.

“I’m particularly disappointed because I was really proud of the work that the City of Perth had done in the safe night spaces and its proactivity in this particular space.

City of Perth council map showing location of existing and proposed drop-in center
This image included in the City of Perth agenda shows the existing center in yellow and proposed new site for the drop-in center in blue.(Supplied: City of Perth)

Ms Zanella said the service was only open from 8:30am until 2pm on weekdays and supported about 120 people a day.

“It provides immediate crisis support for people experiencing homelessness,” she said.

“It helps them with housing applications, it helps them to obtain ID.

“It provides healthcare, it provides legal services … basic facilities to be able to have a shower, somewhere to store their mail.

A head and shoulders shot of a middle-aged woman with brown hair posing for a photo.
Ruah Community Services chief executive Debra Zanella says she is gutted by the council’s decision.(ABC News: Jessica Warrener)

In the staff report for council ahead of the meeting, officers noted that:

“Ruah’s existing Community Center is located 200m from the site and already contributions to the character of the setting. From a planning point of view, it may be difficult to defend a position that relocation of a use that is currently located 200m away, within a precinct that already accommodates a diversity of land uses, would unduly change or impact the character of the setting.”

However, it also reported that word of mouth and publicity around the new location had led to 71 public submissions, with 64 objections and just four in raising support.

The ‘disproportionate burden’

Perth Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas said the council was concerned that the bulk of Perth’s homeless services were located within Northbridge and the CBD, and the relocation of the drop-in center and the new women’s and children’s service amounted to an extra service in the city’s boundaries .

“The reality is that the City of Perth is disproportionately carrying the burden, if you like, of the service providers,” Mr Zempilas said.

“I think 90 percent of service provision for the homelessness space occurs within the City of Perth.

A wide shot of Basil Zempilas in a suit on the phone in the middle of a busy Murray Street Mall on a spring day.
Perth Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas said the council had to listen to the overwhelming community opposition to Ruah’s application.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Mr Zempilas said he recently addressed a state parliamentary homelessness inquiry and advocated not just for an increase in crisis accommodation and support for rough sleepers, but also decentralization of services around the metropolitan area.

“It would have been hypocritical for me to say to a parliamentary inquiry that one of our action points is a decentralization of the service providers, and then on the next Tuesday at a council meeting be arguing for an extra service provision to come into the City of Perth,” he said.

Strong community feeling

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