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Churches, State Govt asked to open doors to homeless

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The Adelaide City Council has supported a move to consult churches and the State Government about opening their doors to the rough sleepers at night.

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While the majority of councillors last night voted in support of the move, some have questioned why the council isn’t inviting rough sleepers to stay in council-owned properties, or councillors’ homes.

The move was originally flagged by councillor Anne Moran, who told InDaily earlier this month that Adelaide should look to European cities such as Paris, which already encourages churches to open their doors to the homeless.

“I don’t like to be too religious about this, but what would Jesus do?,” Moran pondered last night.

“I don’t think he would have closed the front door of the church and let people sleep out in the rain, and that’s what sadly we’re increasingly seeing in our city.”

Moran supported a call to broaden the invitation to the State Government, which manages Lot Fourteen at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

Councillor Robert Simms, who moved the motion, had suggested that the State Government open the former Royal Adelaide Hospital nurses’ quarters to rough sleepers, as it was already designed as an accommodation space.

“This is not a perfect motion – Rob has put in everything that we can think of that could be opened up – but nobody is making anybody do anything,” Moran said.

“It’s just an idea we put out there to try and see if we can get people out of the rain.”

Simms told the chamber it was important to consider both the short and long-term needs of people sleeping rough.

“We do need to deal with social housing, we need to deal with mental health support, but we also need to ensure that people who are sleeping on the street have a roof over their head,” he said.

“One of the big shortfalls in our city at the moment is low-barrier, temporary accommodation for people who are sleeping rough.

“I really am concerned about people sleeping rough, homeless people on the streets during this cold winter… and this is an additional tool that I think would be really helpful.”

I know someone with a mansion in North Adelaide who could spare a few beds

But the move was slammed as “finger pointing at religious bodies” by Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad.

“We’ve got three community centres… why don’t we have a show of hands from councillors that we’re prepared to open them up?” he said.

“You don’t point the finger at a religious body that has no funding, no power, no resources.

“You don’t point the finger at a State Government site when they’ve just announced today… that they’re bringing investment to the site.

“I would ask elected members if you want to effect change get a few of your friends in the south and North Adelaide… and get together and look after 200 (homeless) people.”

Abiad was supported by Alexander Hyde, who told InDaily “I know someone with a mansion in North Adelaide who could spare a few beds”, in reference to Moran.

Hyde said during the meeting that he would vote for the motion, but he had serious concerns that it was akin to “pissing in a wetsuit”.

“I’m all for us considering or investigating anything that would help with what we’ve identified as a crisis and what the sector has identified as a crisis.

“But this is a motion that I worry won’t actually really go anywhere (because) we don’t really have the power to direct third parties to open their doors to the homeless.

“Those third parties as well aren’t necessarily properly equipped to take in those vulnerable people even in a short-term sense (and) I’m not just talking about bedding and other such amenities, but potentially dealing with people with significant mental health problems and the like.

“At the end of the day this is like pissing yourself in a wetsuit – you feel warm and fuzzy but you’re not going to achieve anything.”

South ward councillor Alexander Hyde said supporting Simms’ motion was akin to “pissing in a wetsuit”. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor told the chamber she had spoken to Baptist Care – the lead provider for the homeless when the State Government activates a “Code Blue” alert – about Simms’ motion.

“They also believe that they’re not going far enough to help with this but they’re not resourced enough to do it more often,” she said.

Verschoor said a group of homeless service providers met on Monday night and had agreed that they would open their services more often during winter.

“They also agreed to lobby to call the code blue more often because … there was an instance last weekend when it was forecast as six degrees so they (the State Government) didn’t call a code blue but it was actually three degrees overnight,” she said.

“The centre itself is going to the State Government and is advocating for further places and further resources so they can open more often.

“As long as we make sure we’re speaking to the sector group and the lead providers in the sector group I’m happy to go forward.”

Abiad, Simon Hou, Mary Couros and Jessy Khera voted against Simms’ motion, but they were outnumbered at the vote.

Earlier this month the council unanimously voted to declare a “crisis of homelessness” in the city, following the release of data from the Adelaide Zero project last month, which showed 227 people were sleeping rough in Adelaide – up from 143 people at the same time last year.

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