“We are homeless and we have so little. We have young children, a two year old. They took our shelter, our tents, everything. I was shocked when they not only took all our food and binned it but also took our water containers and bottles and emptied them out in front of us. Don’t they feel shame? Who takes the food and water from the homeless, from our children?” asked homeless 16 year old Paige Winmar.
“We were sleeping. They came early. They didn’t care that we have nowhere to go and that we have children. I couldn’t believe they took everything. I couldn’t believe that they emptied out the water bottles right in front of us and then threw them in the bin. We took them out of the bin to refill with water for the kids,” said Paige’s sister, 18 year old Dominic Isaacs.
In less than 150 days of the homeless camping on Matargarup (Heirisson Island) the City of Perth, escorted by the police, have raided the camp on nine occasions – confiscating tents, swags, linen, pillows, various possessions. On occasion there have been arrests, move on notices and on every occasion despair on the part of the homeless and their supporters. What has warmed many of us greatly has been the huge response by Perth citizens, good hearted people helping the homeless in their direst of circumstance – arriving again and again with tents, swags, bedding, linen, utensils, food and much more. They have replenished the homeless camp at Matargarup nine times, that is following every City of Perth raid.
Surely there are ways forward. I have tried to reach out to the City of Perth council and its executive and for a time gave up on them however I was wrong to do so and will continue to reach out to them – because in the end compassion can win out, it must. Whilst I am in the midst of campaigning, alongside others, for homeless friendly precincts and meeting with parliamentarians and various stakeholders I would like to see the City of Perth work with the homeless on positive humane ways forward that will see them in the very least safe, just safe – reducing the risk of various violence that is their constant worry – and supported in ways that give them back some dignity.
I am always prepared for the investiture of faith in people in that we can find ways forward. I believe in people coming together and that the coupling of compassion and mediation can bridge the ways forward. The daily hardships of the homeless can be made less. The calendar event, Homeless Week, is fast approaching and maybe by then together we can make some sort of difference and have something positively genuine to reflect during that August week.
Elder Bella Bropho despaired after the ninth raid, “They took everything leaving us with no shelter, no warmth and no protection from the cold, disrupting our way of being together.”
“They took everything, even water containers, mugs, pots and the food and leaving women and children to the cold.”
“We thank all those who have been helping us with tents and blankets, foam mattresses and essentials. Our water containers, plates, mugs, pots and billy cans for a cup of tea were all taken from us by Perth City Council. We thank and appreciate our good gutsy friends and supporters. They will never be forgotten by us, forever remembered in the diary of our minds.”
Many have supported, scores and scores – organisations such as H.A.N.D. led by Tanya Cairns, Janette Henry from Perth Homeless Support Group, Jennifer Kaeshagen of the First Nations Homelessness Project, and the Maori community, and many Perth residents, far too many to name. Compassion does not belong to the left or the right, it is endowed universally.
Jennifer Kaeshagen visited Matargarup after the ninth raid.
“This was the ninth raid since March. They took everything leaving the homeless once again bereft, stripped of the last of their possessions, tents and mattresses.”
“They took their firewood.”
“They threw their food in the bin, tipped their drinking water onto the ground.”
“My heart hurting sitting here with everyone – my mind racing with upset half thoughts of what to do.”
“I am watching the youngest of the homeless here – a two year old. His name is Jerry – little Jerry.”
“Little Jerry is helping build a new camp fire. The women, his family, three generations, all homeless, all playing with him, keeping strong for him, while starting from scratch – again.”
“This is a large stable family here that has nowhere but the island to stay. They have tried every avenue. Good people, a close knit family of eight – four females, three males, the youngest little Jerry.”
“One tent so far is all the people tonight have for shelter – one of the women was able to pull it down and shove it in her bag when she saw the City of Perth and police arriving. 20 homeless folk here today but only one three person tent.”
“This is not acceptable, to strip the homeless of what little they have, absolute essentials.”
Paige Winmar said, “It did surprise me when they emptied out our water. We are strong, we have learned to be. We will just start again like we always do and somehow survive.”
But Perth stood tall – the next day following a coldest night’s fall there were 16 tents pitched. From around the nation and from overseas people sent their love.
We have to better than pitchfork standoffs and battles of attrition. Compassion belongs to all of us, not just some of us, and through compassion must our journey be taken together. We just have to sit at the table together and reach out to each other and we will get there. We can do this. I hope that instead of a tenth raid that in the weeks ahead we will sit at that table and dig deep for one another.