Three fires in less than a fortnight at the Batavia Motor Inne are causing concerns for the health and safety of rough sleepers living at the abandoned hotel, as the City pursues legal action in a bid to force the owners to demolish the building.
On Saturday, November 12 a fire broke out at the derelict hotel. Fire crews extinguished the blaze within half an hour and no one was inside the building at the time.
The second incident was on Wednesday, November 16, when a blaze believed to be the result of a contained cooking fire broke out. Assistance was not required from fire crews.
Then on Tuesday, DFES attended a third fire at the site, when a caller about 9.25pm reported smoke coming from the roof. The blaze was extinguished by 9.50pm.
“When we got there we discovered it was a small rubbish fire with no exposures at risk,” a DFES spokesperson said.
City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn, who lives next door to the Batavia, confirmed legal action had commenced and a demolition order would be served to the motel’s owners. He said the City remained deeply concerned by the fires and unruly behaviour.
“The City of Greater Geraldton has commenced legal proceedings against the owners to enforce the demolition notice, but as those proceedings are subject to legal privilege, we are unable to offer further comments at this point,” he said.
Mr Van Styn said the City was particularly concerned about future housing locations for residents using the building as a stop over and hoped the State would take responsibility for the housing crisis.
“Having nearly 100 vacant public housing properties while people are burning firewood to try and cook food is wildly unacceptable in a modern society,” he said.
Housing and Homelessness Minister John Carey reiterated the State Government had no authority to remove people from private property and responsibility to prevent trespassing and unauthorised occupation was the landlord’s responsibility.
“Let me be clear the Batavia Motor Inne is a private property and it should be demolished,” he said.
“The State Government has written to the property owner urging them to take action to secure and fence to prevent trespassing and antisocial behaviour in the derelict buildings on the site and to address the health and safety hazards present at the site.
“The advice I have received is that the majority of the people who attend the site are not homeless and the property continues to attract significant anti-social behaviour.
Mr Carey said the government’s homelessness strategy was “about much more than providing a bed”, adding in May this year 10 new residents from the priority public housing wait list, including some rough sleepers at Batavia, moved into six refurbished properties in Spalding “with intensive wraparound supports to help them transition to independent living and sustain their tenancies”.
That complex is the first of up to 48 older public properties to undergo a facelift in Geraldton and there are 26 properties currently being refurbished and are expected to be available by late this year, the minister said.
Geraldton Salvation Army Corps officer Major Peter Spindler said sourcing safe housing was an issue that needed to be addressed for the people residing at the Batavia Motor Inne.
“It is an unhelpful environment and the urgent priority of all must be about the provision of appropriate accommodation options of those displaced,” he said.
Major Spindler said he acknowledged the challenges of securing alternate accommodation and continued to engage with other agencies and services to support those taking shelter at the site.
“We have a number of units available but they’re currently occupied,” he said.
“It’s a crisis accommodation and unfortunately the way the homelessness situation is in Geraldton … there is a massive shortfall in that crisis sector.”
The Batavia Motor Inne owners were contacted for comment.