Tasmanian councils explore using empty buildings to shelter homeless people

High living costs and rising rents have forced many Tasmanians to take to the streets or find themselves in precarious living situations.

Although the state government has promised 10,000 new social housing units by 2032, there are concerns for people who now need a roof over their heads.

Two municipalities are taking matters into their own hands and looking at how unused or municipal buildings can be used for temporary emergency shelter.

In recent times, the old hospital in St. Helens in the northeast of the state has been used as a COVID-19 clinic.

Break O’Day Mayor Mick Tucker wants to explore how it can be reused to help the growing homeless population.

“It shouldn’t be left empty at the end of the month” [its] COVID clinic status,” Cr Tucker told ABC Radio Hobart.

“We’re willing to raise our hands and look at everything we can, and then work with the state government to see if it’s possible.”

A homeless person lies on a chair.
Cr Tucker says homelessness is a growing problem in the Northeast. ABC News: Giulio Saggin

The property is already equipped with kitchen and bathroom facilities and only some minor adjustments are needed to make it suitable for emergency shelter.

“We’ve come up with an idea that’s worth developing. We believe that whatever is out there is available and can help our community, we need to look at it.”

Council ‘duty of care’

In the south of the state, Glenorchy Councilor Kelly Sims also advocates repurposing community-owned facilities and said local government played a role in addressing the housing crisis in the state.

A woman with blond hair smiles at the camera
Councilor Kelly Sims says local government has a responsibility to do what it can to solve homelessness.Delivered: Facebook

“It’s important for us to understand and share [with State Government] the responsibility to tackle homelessness,” she said.

CR Sims will table a motion at tonight’s meeting calling for an investigation into what council facilities can be used as shelters during the winter.

The motion will also ask the council to write to the state and federal governments and ask for advice on how to tackle homelessness.

“Local government is fundamentally responsible for leading, driving change and influencing the community through a ‘thorough’ approach,” the motion said.

“Councils have a duty of care and the necessary experience to educate their communities and work together on overarching and important issues such as homelessness.”

Well-being warns of costs, complex needs

A balding man in a suit stands in front of a wall
Harvey Lennon welcomes the council’s involvement, but warns that 24/7 facilities don’t come cheap.ABC News: Will Murray

Hobart City Mission chief executive Harvey Lennon said he was pleased that local councils were looking for ways to provide crisis relief, but there’s more to it than “just opening the doors of a building.”

“It’s not cheap to provide 24-hour care,” says Mr. Lennon.

“You have to be able to heat the food [and] toilets and showers provided.