Putting HEART into homelessness

News story
Homelessness Week starts highlighting the benefits of collective action and supports.
Members of the Homeless Engagement Assessment Response Team (HEART) from St Patricks Community Support Centre, Wungening Aboriginal Corporation, Uniting WA.

Homelessness Week has commenced, and aims to raise awareness of people experiencing, or at risk, of homelessness. It’s also a time to reflect on the collective action needed by community and all levels of government to help break the cycle of homelessness.

Many staff across the Department of Communities (Communities), the homelessness services sector and other government agencies demonstrate commitment, passion and empathy to achieve outcomes for those most vulnerable in our community. Communities is leading the coordination of collective responses, which involves multiple systems such as health, mental health and justice.

A key initiative that demonstrates the benefit of a coordinated and responsive approach is HEART (Homeless Engagement, Assessment Response Team),  a unique multi-agency and collaborative partnership between Communities –  the lead government agency responsible for homelessness in WA and committed to government and sector partnerships with all service providers to drive the implementation of All Paths Lead to Home: Western Australia’s 10-Year Strategy on Homelessness 2020-2030 (the Strategy) – and sector partners including:

  • St Patrick’s Community Support Centre (St Pat’s) as the lead sector agency for HEART, is a specialised homelessness agency, both as a service and community housing provider, with a service suite including crisis assistance, alcohol and other drugs, mental health, legal, medical, allied health and dental services.
  • Wungenging Aboriginal Corporation (Wungening), as an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation provides culturally secure and hoslitic supports that promote a healing environment for Aboriginal people and communities.
  • Uniting WA (Uniting) brings to HEART its significant experience supporting individuals experiencing homelessness, providing access to outreach, crisis support and accommodation.

HEART provides rapid, flexible outreach and intensive supports primarily for people who are chronic rough sleepers. This involves engaging with and assessing individuals with complex needs to identify immediate supports and pathways to accommodation, and then working side by side to help them stabilise and transition into safe, secure accommodation.

The unique partnership of HEART demonstrates the benefits of successful collaboration between government and the sector in responding to homelessness. These agencies are supported by the Office of Homelessness team within Strategy and Partnerships at Communities. The Department’s dedicated Homelessness Coordinators maintain oversight to strengthen coordinated rapid and responsive outreach, providing coverage across the Perth CBD and broader metropolitan. This maximises multi-agency collaboration and avoids duplication of services.

Office of Homelessness Executive Director Jacqui Herring said “the team works with service providers across government and community to drive better outcomes for people experiencing homelessness.

“We directly support HEART workers to enhance inter-agency collaboration to coordinate supports and accommodation referral pathways.”

This Homelessness Week we highlight the strength of collective action and wrap around supports for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, as demonstrated through services like HEART. 

Recently, as part of the expanded Safe Perth City Initiative, HEART with support of RooForce, a registered Aboriginal business providing cultural liaison and engagement, supported around 25 people sleeping rough who travelled to Perth from the Kimberley region to visit family or access medication treatment and had been unable to access or maintain accommodation.

Communities assisted HEART in supporting individuals to navigate the Department of Health’s (WA Country Health Service) Patient Assistant Travel Scheme (PATS), and access treatment supports offered by the Royal Perth Hospital. HEART also liaised with the WA Country Health Service to ensure people were linked to supports when they returned home thereby improving their treatment outcomes.

Given the scale of the rough sleeper site and complexity, Communities led the multi-agency planning and response to support site closure. This involved assistance from WA Police in addition support from the Department of Health, Main Roads WA, the Public Transport Authority and City of Perth. While HEART led engagement efforts with individuals, complemented by RooForce. Through this targeted approach, individuals were identified and needs assessments undertaken, with offers of supports made.

As a result, a total of 17 people were supported to Return to Countryand a further eight individuals were supported to access accommodation. These outcomes are a significant achievement, demonstrating the effective partnership approachin driving collective responses to support people who are sleeping rough.

Homelessness is a complex social issue and the important work being done by Communities’ staff and service providers across government and community is deserving of appreciation. That is why for the first time in 2022, Communities has organised the showcase of important Homelessness Week messages on city screens in Yagan Square, City of Perth Northridge Piazza and Forrest Place – to say thank you to all service providers, highlight the importance of working together and to show our support for people who are sleeping rough.

Shelter WA leads Homelessness Week activities each year and the theme for the program this year is Housing, Health and Homelessness. The theme explores the intrinsic link between housing, health and homelessness for people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness, and their need for appropriate housing and wrap around supports. Show your support by attending and taking part in Shelter WA events this Homelessness Week.

Homelessness Week runs from 1 to 7 August 2022.

Page reviewed 2 August 2022