Twenty University of WA (UWA) students sat down to a shared lunch with St Patrick’s Community Support Centre clients during a guided tour of its Fremantle centre on January 30.
The visit was part of a new summer school unit Approaches to Wicked Problems, which has been developed by the McCusker Centre for Citizenship (MCC) at UWA in partnership with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness (WAAEH).
During the four-week intensive unit, students have been learning ways of addressing homelessness in WA, hearing directly from people working in not-for-profit (NFP) services and those who have personally experienced homelessness, and developing projects that will have a real impact in the community.
St Patrick’s Community Support Centre chief executive Michael Piu (and member of the WAAEH Collaborative Lead Group) said he hoped the students would use insights from the visit to help bring about positive changes in their future as business and community leaders.
“We always encourage visiting students to share a meal with our clients,” Mr Piu said.
“A shared lunch is a great leveller, it encourages conversation, builds understanding and re-establishes our connection as humans.”
UWA Political Science and Economics student Thomas Paparo said it was wonderful to get “first-hand experience on the ground” of how local service providers work to support those who were going through housing and financial difficulties.
“It is vitally important for the youth in Western Australia to realise the complexities and difficulties of homelessness – and more broadly, to understand a lot of associated issues like mental health and alcohol and drug dependency,” Mr Paparo said.
“We don’t realise how close we may be to homelessness until we really understand the true causes and associated issues.”
The Floreat resident, 19, said one of the reasons he enrolled in Approaches to Wicked Problems was the opportunity to move outside the classroom and into a more practical application of his study.
“Often it’s difficult for students and general members of the public to know what’s really going on and to truly empathise with and understand the harsh realities of the situation,” he said.
“First off, it requires an open mind and an open heart to sit down with people who have experienced homelessness and to be able to say ‘I would love to just hear your story’.
“This unit is about looking at how we can use our knowledge, experience and understanding – alongside insights from the service providers we’re working with – to come up with solutions to massive problems we have in our society.”
Having partnered with the MCC for three years as a host organisation for its internship program, Mr Piu said he immediately saw value in the Approaches to Wicked Problems unit.
“Students from the McCusker Centre for Citizenship have helped in various ways to improve our services at St. Pat’s from working on a client newsletter to organising volunteer events,” he said.
“With the Approaches to Wicked Problems unit, we saw the value in having a team of students work on a strategy to improve our op shop donation programme.
“The project suits a group and we would not have been able to muster the resources to get this project done without the help of the McCusker students.”
MCC Academic Coordinator Claire Dodd said the unit was focused on engaging with students to help find real solutions.
“We know it’s possible to end homelessness, and we are lucky in WA to have the Alliance who partner with the whole community – students included – to get us collectively closer to this goal,” she said.