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'Punitive' rental laws condemning Aboriginal families to homelessness, prison and death

Giovanni Torre -

Punitive rental laws are condemning Aboriginal families to homelessness, child removal, prison and even death, a WA parliamentary inquiry heard on Monday.

Several Noongar advocates spoke to the Inquiry into the Financial Administration of Homelessness Services, including former residents of the "tent cities" that were established in Perth.

Also appearing were families who have been made homeless due to no reason or fault evictions, and relatives of people who have died homeless on Perth streets over the past two years.

New data published in August showed Aboriginal people remain radically over-represented in Western Australia's homeless population. University of WA Centre for Social Impact director Paul Flatau said Indigenous people form 29.1 per cent of the homeless population, while making up 3.1 per cent of the general population.

The speakers told the inquiry self determination was critical to reversing the trend.

Noelene Garlett, a Noongar woman who helped found the Perth Tent City before securing public housing, said she was now doing what she could to help people on the streets. After addressing the inquiry, Ms Garlett said she was a member of the Stolen Generations who had been made homeless by the need to escape domestic violence.

"The new laws banning us from the city centre and other places is a repeat of colonial law. We can't live under laws that restrict us from entering or doing cultural business," she said.

"They've got no respect for First Nation people. They still look down on us like we're nobodies here.

"They need to work with us and not look down on us."

Stacey Garlett, who was made homeless with her children in a no reason eviction this year, told the inquiry she has been pushed out of the private rental market by rising costs.

"I have got myself onto the Priority List for the Department of Housing and I was on the waitlist for two years with no properties being offered to myself," she said.

Desmond Blurton after addressing the parliamentary inquiry.

"I am currently living out of my car and couch surfing with no other option for myself and my two daughters - wherever you contact they all say they are full and also have a waiting list.

"You see all the stories all over the news on how they are supposed to be supporting the First Nations people… Where is all this money and funding going if we still can't even be housed?"

Maria Williams said three generations of her family were homeless.

"Six months ago, the Department promised to house us through their special HEART homelessness squad and we're still out on the street and sleeping in parks," she said.

"What will it take for this government to give us what they owe us - somewhere safe and stable to bring our children home?"

Ballardong Noongar man Desmond Blurton, who was recently housed after years of homelessness, said after addressing the inquiry self-governance and self-determination was the key.

"We need to support networks and culturally appropriate programs," he said. "

It is terrible as First Nations people… it is breaking our spirit to know we are living on our own Boodja but we have no where to stay. "It puts pressure on us, on our families, on us all – including the justice system, which is not the solution. Our homeless people, they need to be respected and to not be intimidated by the City of Perth or the WA Police."

Mr Blurton said funds from the Noongar Settlement should be used to support Indigenous-led solutions to homelessness.

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