Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. This brings them into contact with many homeless persons. Here they share their view on Government failure to secure accommodation for the homeless during the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

As the Government scrambles to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, the homeless have been pushed to the back of the priority list.

While body bags have been sent to remote First Nations communities in the event the Coronavirus contagion hits, everywhere else in Australia there’s been a ramping up of health infrastructure and resources. What sort of messaging is this?

Then there’s the near total neglect of the homeless, who are our most vulnerable citizens. According to the Australian of Bureau of Statistics (ABS), one in four homeless people in Australia are First Nations.

We work alongside homeless individuals and families throughout Australia but majorly with Perth’s homeless, of whom one in three are First Nations.

We and our colleagues have met and supported, where possible, the majority of Perth’s homeless. It’s an abomination that there are so many homeless in the extraordinarily affluent state of Western Australia.

We know Perth’s homeless well. Our experience with Perth’s homeless is testament; at least a third of Perth’s homeless sleep the pavements, alleyways, squats, traps and parks all the while trying to manage chronic respiratory conditions.

Many are diabetics, particularly our First Nations sisters and brothers. Their immune systems are shot, meaning an elevated risk to contracting and dying from Coronavirus.

The homeless don’t carry around hand sanitisers.

It is an indictment of our Governments that they have left our most vulnerable people – the homeless – exposed to COVID-19 infection.

On Tuesday, Western Australia’s Community Services Minister, Simone McGurk, announced 20 homeless people would be accommodated at a Perth hotel as part of a month-long pilot program to prevent the spread of the virus. What muddle-mindedness is this?

Our national identity smacks loudly of classism and racism, even amidst the most dangerous pandemic in a century.

A trial is a slap in the face, brutally inhumane and potentially a death warrant for many languishing homeless while everyone is in household lockdown.

Recently, we accommodated five pregnant homeless mums, four of them First Nations, because no one else would. Where’s the humanity?

How are we supposed to take the coronavirus contagion seriously if the Government is ‘trialling’ 30 days hotel accommodation for 20 of Perth’s homeless? Trialling? There’s no time to waste.

All of central Perth’s homeless must be put up in hotels, and support workers rotated to them. Failure is unacceptable. There’s more than 200 street-present homeless in central Perth, about 100 in Fremantle and up to 800 throughout the rest of Perth and Peel region. Among these are children – we are fighting to get 10-year-olds and their families housed.

As well, the majority of the homeless have comorbidities – more than one illness – and are as vulnerable as human beings get. There’s no handpicking 20 – a true show of integrity and humanity should constitute housing for all.

Some have crashed with struggling relatives. One household we visited this week with crates of food and blankets, held 15 individuals, some in the garage, under the same roof. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, we continue outreach services and donations of food and essentials.

The hard and fast rule, non-negotiable, is to accommodate all the homeless and make it work.

By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos

 

Megan Krakouer is a Mineng woman from Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) and also works as a lawyer for the National Justice Project.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. Among his academic qualifications he has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy. He is the national coordinator of the NSPTRP.