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Research reveals Indigenous people drastically overrepresented in Perth homeless deaths and evictions

Giovanni Torre -

At least 107 homeless or recently homeless people died in Perth in 2022, new research to be presented at an inquiry into homelessness services Wednesday reveals, with 31 per cent of those who died being Aboriginal people.

The people were homeless at the time of their deaths or had recently experienced homelessness. The average age of death was 50 years.

The inquiry will also hear that well over half of the public housing tenancies terminated in "no grounds evictions" last year were Aboriginal families.

House the Homeless WA campaigners Dr Betsy Buchanan OAM and Jesse Noakes will appear to give evidence at the WA Parliamentary Inquiry into the Financial Administration of Homelessness Services this morning, 15 March.

Dr Buchanan and Mr Noakes will speak on how Western Australian housing policy continues "to trap Aboriginal people in the system and makes Closing the Gap impossible".

House the Homeless WA will also present previously unreported data that shows the WA housing crisis has "dramatically worsened" in recent years, and how it unfairly impacts Aboriginal families at "wildly disproportionate rates"; including that more than 50 per cent of all public housing evictions in Western Australia every year under the McGowan government have been Aboriginal tenancies.

The group said research by Associate Professor Lisa Wood of the University of Western Australia's Home 2 Health team found 107 people died homeless on Perth streets in 2022, meaning that "more than 200 people have died due to homelessness in Perth since the start of the pandemic".

In 2020 Home 2 Health found 56 people died homeless in Perth, which Associate Professor Wood described at the time as a "conservative figure" based exclusively on the records of public hospitals.

Long-time advocate for Aboriginal people and communities, Dr Buchanan OAM, will tell the Inquiry in her opening statement that "Fundamentally, the housing policies of the WA government are a pipeline to prison and the justice system for Aboriginal people in this state".

"The most proximate cause of homelessness is being evicted from a home. In this state, for no good reason, this happens first and foremost to Aboriginal families. And the tragedy is that the current Labor government has only compounded the crisis," she will note.

"Every year under the McGowan government, more than half the families evicted from public housing in WA by this government are Aboriginal.

"Week in week out, I hear from parents and grandparents at their wits end because the WA government continues to evict Aboriginal families from public housing for no reason."

Dr Buchanan said that in 2022 it was revealed that 58 per cent of the public housing tenancies terminated in "no grounds evictions" were First Nations families.

"In the interests of justice, fairness and good public policy, this government must stop evicting families and instead work with them to sustain their tenancies and keep their children safe," she said.

House the Homeless WA campaign coordinator Jesse Noakes will speak to the inquiry on a range of issues, including the deaths of people homeless in Perth.

"This morning it is my grim duty to table with the committee the latest research from the Home 2 Health team that finds that 107 people died in Perth last year due to homelessness. That makes significantly more than 200 people who have died on Perth streets since the start of the pandemic," he said.

"Already again this year we have lost too many people as this committee will be well aware. The rage and despair that is felt every time there is another tragedy is making our city streets less safe for everyone."

"Every year this government evicts hundreds of families with children from public housing. More than half of the families evicted from public housing by this government every year are Aboriginal. Every single one of these policies that we have data for is disproportionately used to target Aboriginal families.

"This may explain why it is so difficult to get this government to release transparent figures. If the WA Housing Minister reckons the government has reduced public housing evictions by 90 per cent he is badly mistaken and we have the numbers that prove it."

WA Housing Minister John Carey said there has been a more than 90 per cent decline in public housing evictions under the McGowan Government.

"I have been on the public record that the State Government, through the Department of Communities, ensures evictions from public housing are always a last resort. The vast majority of public housing tenants have never had complaints made against them and live in quiet enjoyment free from ongoing disruption, and in most cases, tenancy agreements are observed without concern or incident," he said.

"Households who voluntarily vacate following termination notices or court orders are not evictions, as they are not final. Right up until the point where there is an eviction, and the locks are changed, tenants still have the opportunity to change their behaviour and engage with the Department of Communities to sustain their tenancy."

Mr Carey said that ultimately the decision to terminate a tenancy agreement sits with the Magistrate, who will only grant an order for vacant possession if satisfied that there has been a breach of the tenancy agreement, and that the tenant has been given every opportunity to rectify the breach and has failed to do so.

"I want to frank, claims made that the government tried to hide information are entirely false," he said.

"The eviction data requested was provided multiple times to the WA Parliament and further information requested by media was provided by the Department to the outlet, as requested.

"It is a simple fact, that despite all engagement and supports provided, termination action often has to be taken to ensure the safety of the community, especially adjoining neighbours. The reality is that – the Department of Communities is often left with no choice as some tenants continue to be a risk to neighbours and surrounding communities."

Mr Carey said some tenants have been evicted for reasons including threats to personal safety, the slaughter of an animal from a neighbouring property, significant and egregious anti-social behaviour, and in one case, a tenancy having more than 160 police call-outs to the property in less than a two-year period.

House the Homeless WA has long campaigned for an increase to Western Australia public housing supply and for more accommodation and support services for the state's homeless.

In January the state government announced the purchase of a former hotel to provide accommodation for rough sleepers, a new facility to complement accommodation in the Perth CBD including Boorloo Bidee Mia in Wellington Street and Koort Boodja in Northbridge. At the end of 2022 Boorloo Bidee Mia, designed to accommodate 100 people, was operating at 92 per cent occupancy.

A live stream of the committee hearing will be available from 9.00am AWST via the WA Parliament website.

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