Red tape halts homeless housing

Pierra WillixSound Telegraph
Michael Kiernan, a former mining millionaire, who is now working with the homeless of Rockingham after he lost his fortune.
Camera IconMichael Kiernan, a former mining millionaire, who is now working with the homeless of Rockingham after he lost his fortune. Credit: West Australian

A former mining boss who tried to develop crisis accommodation for the homeless in the region has said negative attitudes towards those on the street has impeded attempts to address the growing problem.

Up to 75 people could have been taken off the streets each year if a proposal to develop accommodation in Kwinana by Michael Kiernan had progressed, but plans were abandoned after he was told it was unlikely to be approved.

Mr Kiernan, who lives in Rockingham, is the founding chairman of the Saint Benedicts Homeless Foundation, and in 2017 had been working on developing a “shelter farm” on a block of land, currently State owned, that would have provided accommodation, vocational training and employment.

He said the City of Kwinana Planning Department had identified the unused old Medina Research Station as the “ideal” location for the venture.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


“The discreet location was close to public transport and community facilities yet away from the public direct view,” he said.

It would have been privately funded, at no cost to government.

Homeless people living in a bush camp in East Rockingham have told the Sound Telegraph there is nowhere for them to go locally to access crisis accommodation, which has been backed up by local organisations, who say they have to refer people to accommodation in Fremantle or Northbridge.

Despite Mr Kiernan’s attempts to help get people off the streets, plans for the shelter farm were abandoned after he was told some councillors and senior management at the City did not support his initiative, and that he was wasting his time. He said he was agitated that “although local authorities, government departments and government politicians’ pay lip service to want to solve the problem when push comes to shove, they all come up with reasons why not to do so”.

Working through red tape to progress the proposal eventually led Mr Kiernan to look elsewhere, after he was told by the City of Kwinana that as the land identified was State owned, he would have to liaise with the relevant agencies.

Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams said given the City had no control over the land, it “became a project for him to pursue”.

She said the City had no further contact about the concept and was not aware why it did not proceed.

However, Mr Kiernan said excessive bureaucracy was in place, as the Department of Planning told him they would only discuss his proposal if and when the City gave their written consent.

At the last Census in 2016, 216 people in Rockingham and Kwinana were listed as homeless.

Homelessness advocate Jonathan Shapiera said organisations trying to address homelessness were not getting support from local government, which he said was also influenced by NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitudes.

“People will say they want to donate items or help the homeless, but they don’t want the homeless living near them,” he said.

“A lot of people think people who are homeless are a bunch of criminals, drug addicts and drunks and that hurts severely in being able to get projects going.”

Another proposal to help curb homelessness in the area was recently knocked back by the City of Rockingham.

St Patrick’s Community Support Centre wanted to develop accommodation for up to 31 men at risk of homelessness in Shoalwater, but residents were overwhelmingly against the proposal.

The City of Rockingham received 216 submissions regarding the proposal. Of these, 177 opposed it.

St Pat’s can appeal the decision to the State Administrative Tribunal, however they would not confirm whether they would push forward with the proposal.

Mr Kiernan will open a shelter in Burswood early next year, but is progressing plans for the shelter farm with the Shire of Murray.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails