Youth worker says winter is ‘difficult and harsh’ for homeless

A lack of accommodation services will leave Mandurah's homeless community dealing with harsh weather conditions this winter, according to a local youth worker.

After the first storm of the season, the Mandurah Mail spoke with Passages Resource Centre, to find out how their young clients survived the "harsh" conditions on the streets.

The not-for-profit, for 12 to 25-year-olds, started five years ago by the Rotary Club of Mandurah and Saint Vincent De Paul after the community noticed a huge increase in youth homelessness.

However, youth worker Jade Gillespie pointed out that young homeless people were hard to recognise.

“They dress like you and I,” she said. “They don’t really fit that stereotypical mold of homeless.”

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Ms Gillespie said it was hard for homeless people in winter, and donations from the community including sleeping bags, blankets, clothes and food, went a long way.

“Coming into winter, the conditions are a lot more harsh,” she said. 

“It can be really difficult. The accommodation services don’t meet the demand.

“Sometimes we have clients show up with literally the clothes on their back and a small backpack, so we accept anything from the community.”

The organisation defines homelessness in three tiers; living on the street, improvised dwelling and living in transitional accommodation. 

“There’s a real misconception about what homelessness is, and I suppose home means different things to different people,” Ms Gillespie said. 

“A lot of our clients call this centre home. Others live on the beach, down at the foreshore, in a family member’s back garden, in tents….”

The centre is set-up like a house, to make clients feel at home and includes a shower, laundry, kitchen and backyard. 

This year alone, they have provided 652 meals to community members. 

Ms Gillespie said the centre had grown from being just a referral service, to a fully operational “engagement hub”, and most importantly, a place where young disadvantaged people felt comfortable.

“Some of them haven’t eaten for three-days or haven’t had a shower and want to wash their clothes,” she said.

“We can’t start referring them to counselling and other services before their basic needs are met. It’s all about relationship building.”

Ms Gillespie said after the client and youth worker developed trust, they could work out the outside services that would help the individual.

The organisation operates on a unique model by allowing clients to access the hub while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and unmedicated for serious mental health issues. 

To contact the Passages Resource Centre visit www.passagesresourcecentre.com or phone 9583 5160.