I have dedicated decades to the most vulnerable, so I write as if I speak from the streets. A cry from the alleyways, verge squats and lonely parks. The scale of homelessness, in all its forms, proportionally, is worst in Western Australia, where otherwise the privileged enjoy life in our nation’s wealthiest jurisdiction.
Most recently, the Western Australian Government, with an election looming, overreacted and called in police to close down the Fremantle homeless camp – after a media blitz on the Government’s horrific track record on homelessness and the lack of public housing.
Life is short and it matters what we do for sisters and brothers languishing far behind the line of disadvantage.
The Fremantle camp for the homeless was what Matagarup (Heirrisson) homeless camp was. What Sydney’s Glebe, Belmore Park and Martin Place homeless camps were… They foregrounded to household Australians what otherwise for the majority is unimaginable. The Fremantle camp was safer than the streets. That’s sad, eh, but fact…
The street homeless live various violence, are robbed, are predated upon. Homeless women and youth are beaten and raped in alleyways and squats. Who hears their cries? Do they turn to police?
The sad indisputable comparator is Pioneer Park camp, with all its tragedy and travesty, was safer than the alleyways, carparks, verges, parks, squats, traps…
Last year, more than 40 homeless souls died on the streets of Perth.
We’re all sisters and brothers, or we should be…
It is beyond immoral reprehension the disingenuous Trump-akin misinformation meltdown by the Premier and the Western Australian Government to try and extinguish public empathy for the homeless by defaming the street homeless as charlatans. This cruel tripe has been tried before by the disgraced and sacked former Perth City Council. What is Western Australia becoming when the Premier and Ministers lower themselves to a misinformation campaign to cover up their penny-pinching cruelties when it comes to the homeless?
I chase transgressions and systemic repair and rarely chase the individual and do not get personal but the Premier and Ministers depraved to the personal, defaming the homeless.
Western Australia fails its homeless and vulnerable worse than any other State. Western Australia has the highest homeless rate in the nation. Western Australia has an increasing rough-sleepers crisis.
Western Australia is the richest State in the world’s 13th biggest economy. Australia is a double trillionaire GDP economy and Western Australia has one of the world’s best GSPs. To permanently house all the State’s street homeless, our most vulnerable, will cost much less than one standalone State budget surplus. To end all forms of homelessness in this State, by building 16,000 quality public, social and community houses, will cost between five billion dollars to no more than eight billion if they’d also like to include for those with specialist needs, the psychosocial and tailormade assists. This standalone spend can be recovered within two years, at most three years, of State budget surpluses. It will also reduce the burden of preventable disease and poor health and reduce the ancillary homeless service support costs.
Western Australia can inspire the nation, go from the nation’s backwater to a social justice giant and end street homelessness and if the political will finds its missing moral compass end all forms of homelessness. In 2011, the now Premier, then Opposition Housing Shadow Minister, stood next to me at a rally for the homeless – and was loud in the call for public housing. Shadow leader, Eric Ripper and present-day Greens parliamentarian, Alison Xamon, were also speakers at the rally. I MC-ed. In Opposition Mr McGowan was one with human rights practitioners calling for more public housing and for homeless friendly precincts. As Premier McGowan, along with some of his Ministers – not all – he is heralding a never-before-seen assault on human rights practitioners. Who would have believed? I first met Mark, nearly two decades ago, through soup kitchens and food banks we were both involved with.
The Fremantle homeless camp forefronts to all householders our most vulnerable sisters and brothers. We should weep. Let us not betray them.
Earlier last year, during the first wave of our State’s lock-downs, our small service, the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project, interim accommodated more homeless than our Government did. That’s an indictment, a very sad one… They put up in a hotel, 20. We put up 43. They’re a Government, we’re not.
This past weekend, a suicidal young woman – homeless – and drug affected – cried out for help. I and a salt-of-earth coalface worker responded. We called for an ambulance – priority one – and the ambulance and police turned up to a Perth city park.
Unbelievably, a little while later, she was discharged from hospital!
She cried out for help once again. Was violent and abusive. But we managed to get her into hotel accommodation, to come down from the drugs. For our thanks, the other responder was punched. Had we not intervened – it is my view she’d be more than likely another street homeless death.
Here is a redacted and truncated support letter I wrote to a Department of Housing Office in Perth in hoping to crash through a home for this young woman, who I have also known for nearly three years – and save her life.
- Trisha (*name changed) must be prioritised for a home, without delay. Her very life depends on this. Her suicidality will be significantly mitigated with housing security. The firmament of a home will stalwart steady her and order her thinking, allowing her innate high calibre intellectuality to pronounce her best self.
I have assisted in thousands of housing requests. This is my most urgent recommendation in support of housing without delay. If the housing waiting lists were triaged on a need basis, Trisha would be at the top of the list. Everything that can be done to accommodate Trisha, must be done please. The expeditious housing of Trisha may save her life.
Trisha is languishing between street homeless or at best transient, from one dire predicament to another. Trisha’s high calibre cognitive processing has been cast dark palls after bouts of street homelessness narrated by a staggeringly harrowing life journey multilayered by traumas – aggressive trauma, multiple traumas and composite traumas – such is the harrow of her life. She is the victim of various violence, sexual abuse, deprivations, never having the chances to a best life the majority of Australians take for granted.
It is not like me to write as I am, however, how much can Trisha endure? We cannot betray this individual’s right to a ‘break’ – and the ‘break’ needs to be a ‘home’.
I have worked with thousands of people over the years, and there are few journeys as harrowing as Trisha’s. The multifactorial traumas Trisha endured should be unimaginable. She has taken blow after blow, and then more, and all the while fighting like no other person I know to survive, and at times to thrive.
I have known Trisha nearly three years, first meeting her in a Complex Behaviour Unit of (an interstate) Correctional. At the time, I was the national coordinator of the responders for a crisis taskforce. I visited her twice. The unaddressed traumas of the most serious modalities complexified her life into suicidality, disordered thinking, despair, to confusions. I have lived suicidality – as my work in postvention and prevention – for the last decade and half, and I have never met any individual battered by the level of traumas, aberrance, erosion of the psychosocial and psychological selves and survived.
Trisha has miraculously survived because so far, she has been this extraordinarily resilient individual. I have the upmost respect for her and in all my remaining days on this earth I will never forget her or of her perennial drive to live for something better despite the midst of wickedness, horrors imposed on her – and beautifully shine a light in pursuit to improve her lot. To me, she is a true hero, the realest Australian of the Year.
Will she survive without a home? I do not believe so. The home is what may save her life, and if kindly secured, we at the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project will do everything we can, including furnishing the home.
Trisha will have psychosocial support from myself and from the salt-of-earth Daydawn Advocacy Centre. She visits counsellors at Yorghum. We will care plan diverse supports.
On completing her sentence at (the interstate) Correctional, she was transferred to (another interstate) Women’s Correctional where she was to complete another sentence. Trisha’s mother became terminally ill. I assisted in securing a Compassionate Release – November 2019. Hence, she lived in (an interstate capital city) in Community Social Housing. I visited her on a few occasions as part of my national outreach work and witnessed an individual capable of so much more than what instead the unfairness of life for many encumbers and debilitates.
I beseech, indeed I am prepared to beg, and put my reputation on the line, for the Department to please urgently house Trisha and galvanise her best shot at life.
- Gerry Georgatos, coordinator, Coalition for Housing the Homeless First Agenda