Safe place for rough sleepers

By Brendan Rees

A $20 million plan to convert an old industrial CBD building into an emergency housing shelter will provide much-needed support for rough sleepers. 

The City of Melbourne will redevelop 602 Little Bourke St, a former electricity network building, which will see 50 studio apartments built over several floors. 

In a huge boost, not-for-profit organisation Housing All Australians has so far partnered with Quest Apartment Hotels, Linen House and Dulux, who are among more than 10 big firms to have collectively donated close to $4 million worth of paint, linen, furnishings and free labour to make the project a reality.

The Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has pledged its support and the City of Melbourne is in talks with potential donors, supporters and partners, with further funding announcements expected to be made soon.  

A space will also re-house a collection of artworks and archived items currently stored in the Little Bourke St building. 

Support services including doctors, mental health professionals, counsellors and housing specialists will also be provided, while a 24-hour concierge service and a social enterprise will be located on the ground floor allowing further employment and training opportunities.

The City of Melbourne owns the building, which is worth $7.45 million, and has promised $350,000 to begin a refit in this year’s budget. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the venture would be “life-changing” for the city’s most vulnerable.

“Melbourne is a caring city and we know how deeply Melburnians care about making a positive difference for those currently experiencing homelessness,” she said. 

“I’d like to thank organisations such as Housing All Australians, the Council to Homeless Persons and so many more for their continued advocacy on this important issue.”

The council’s health, wellbeing and belonging chair Cr Olivia Ball said the City of Melbourne’s aim was to change lives and “help people put homelessness behind them”.

“We are using a housing first approach, which means that people need to be housed before any other challenges in their lives can be effectively addressed,” she said. 

Housing All Australians founder and director Rob Pradolin said a lack of public, social and affordable housing was “a huge issue that faces our society” and “we are leaving an economic, as well as social, timebomb for future generations to face”.

“We must house all Australians, rich or poor,” he said, adding he saw the project as an opportunity for the private sector to “lead the charge”.

“My objective is to talk to as many contractors and suppliers as possible to say ‘why don’t we all do our little bit?’”

“Together we can provide the national leadership to unite the business community in effecting the change that is needed. I feel very optimistic that we can solve homelessness in this country and form a new economic platform for Australia’s future success.”

“I’m tired of continuing to wait for the government to do it. It is too big a problem for them to solve by themselves anyway. It’s the private sector that has to take a step up and lead the national discussion.”

The Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle, who runs Project 614, praised the City of Melbourne for its “proactive approach”.

Rough sleepers and squatters had often used vacant buildings surrounding 602 Little Bourke St, he said, noting in recent years a teenage girl had tragically died after falling through a hole of an empty building. 

“When we hear that the council wants to activate one of those buildings, not just the shelter but to put a range of supports in place that will help people … we’re 100 per cent supportive of that because we see that it’s potentially going to save lives,” Mr Nottle said. 

He added the new accommodation would “start to address some of the drivers for their homelessness and to also access long term accommodation options”.

Jenny Smith, Council to Homeless Persons CEO, applauded the City of Melbourne’s response to homelessness in the CBD, saying the accommodation “will make a real difference to people’s lives”. 

“We look forward to working with the council as the housing is developed to create a model that will provide a sustained pathway out of homelessness for residents,” she said.

Property industry firms also committing their support to the project include Integral Group, WSP, Bonacci, Gallager Jeffs, du Chateau Chun, Rider Levett Bucknall Victoria, Hollerich Town Planning, Marshall Day, and Norton Rose Fulbright. Cox Architecture is awaiting its approval to contribute its services •

Any company interested in donating products or their skills may contact Housing All Australians at [email protected]

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