Noongar community leaders and activists marched on Western Australia’s Parliament House on Wednesday to make camp and re-occupy the site to draw attention to the suffering of the state’s homeless and demand immediate action.
Lead organiser Anselm Taylor, 51, who has been on the public housing waitlist since 2017 and has recently resided at Tent City, said it’s “not safe to be on these streets”.
“We need the government to help us get housing now so we can get off these streets and be back together with our families. I’ve lost family on the streets. It’s not safe for our women and children, and it’s killing our people,” he said.
“We need houses now so we can move forward together, for all of us. I’ve organised this protest so that everyone can see that we’re serious and we want to get off these streets—it ends now.”
Anselm, known as Uncle Ampy, has a major heart condition that has caused him to have several heart attacks in recent months. He is still sleeping rough in the Perth CBD.
Senior Bibbulmun Elder Aunty Mingli Wanjurri McGlade said shelter is “a fundamental human need and a basic human right”.
“The numbers of people dying on our street should shame the government when a state as rich as ours cannot give shelter to the people who need it most,” she said.
More than 1,000 people sleep rough on Perth’s streets every night, and more than 10,000 people are homeless across the state. Some 15,000 households are waiting for public housing assistance.
Since March 2017 more than 1,000 publicly-owned homes have been sold off or otherwise lost in WA, House the Homeless WA said in a statement.
“While Victoria has just announced the construction of 12,000 public houses, the WA Government has committed to just 260 a year over the next decade,” said House the Homeless WA.
“We will never Close the Gap in First Nations injustice and disadvantage without a serious and sustained commitment to provide homes for the families who need them.”
Megan Krakouer, Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, said: “When we compare Victoria’s response to Western Australia, our government remains the back water of this nation—doing next to nothing for our most vulnerable.”
Fifty people currently seek shelter at Tent City in Perth CBD. Meanwhile, an empty backpackers’ hostel with 50 beds sits ready and vacant in the heart of the city. Identified as a potential solution during the City of Perth election campaign, it is available now as a supported transitional accommodation solution.
Noongar activist Mervyn Eades noted that former housing department official Paul Whyte had confessed to stealing more than $22 million, several million of which was siphoned from funding for affordable housing.
“McGowan and this mob of clowns, we want that [money] returned and we want to get our people off the streets. We have whole families on the streets, we have babies being born on the streets,” he said.
“Where is the Aboriginal housing? They are selling off our housing … Our people are suffering in the streets, people have died on these streets—when will it stop? … Our people are living in third world conditions.”
Herbert Bropho said he had lost his younger brother to homelessness.
“In my life I have seen a lot of families struggle on the streets. A couple of months ago we lost our nephew to the streets. I lost the most important person in my life, my baby brother Richard. He lived on the streets.
“It is one month until Christmas. It will be a merry Christmas for all the rich people … while Aboriginal people and poor people of different nationalities sleep in the fucking cold.”
New Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup and Opposition Housing Spokesperson Tony Krsticevic spoke with the demonstrators.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Housing Peter Tinley said the McGowan Government’s Social Housing Economic Recovery package would see a $141.7 million package refurbish 1,500 public and community houses, a rolling maintenance program targeting 3,800 regional dwellings, and the delivery of about 250 new homes to help meet WA’s social housing needs.
By Giovanni Torre