Western Australia has the highest eviction rate of First Nation families in the nation. In recent months, The Stringer has reported the sad plight of several families who have been evicted – one family with 13 children, another with 11, another with 9 children. In the last week, The Stringer has met with seven more families that have been evicted, including one family evicted the day before Christmas.
The Stringer has also met with grandparents who are taking in as many of the children as possible to help them through schooling but the parents remain homeless while looking for work. Grandparents, many of them elderly, sickly or with disabilities have described difficult pressures and the stresses upon them therefore.
41 year old Noongar single mother Jacqui Lines was evicted with her three children – aged 10, 13 and 16 – from State Housing because of unpaid rent and an unpaid water bill.
“They did this the day before Christmas – who does that? How mean spirited was that?”
“My family didn’t have a Christmas, didn’t enjoy a Christmas dinner,” said Ms Lines.
“Don’t these people understand the poverty we endure, the hardships that befall some of us? We can’t do it easily on $500 a week with three children.”
“I fell into arrears because I didn’t complete a rental rebate form and I was instead hit with a rent of $275 a week for a period of up to seven months. How was I supposed to cope with a couple of hundred dollars remaining each week to raise three children, feed them, meet their needs?”
It is the second time the family has been evicted from State Housing.
“I fell behind about $400 in rent and I tried to direct debit payments to them and then when they threatened to evict us if I didn’t catch up on the difference I offered to up the payments but it was too late.”
“With the water bill, we were in dispute with them, it was $300.”
Last year, Kimberley parliamentarian, Kija Elder, Josie Farrer intervened in a dispute between the Department of Housing and an 86 year Kununurra lady over a $500 water bill. Ms Farrer said the Department of Housing had threatened to evict the elderly lady over the payment dispute.
“Where does an elderly lady of 86 years go to? Some of these policies are too harsh on our people who are the most marginalised and impoverished, and obviously not able to keep up with the outrageous cost of living pressures in this State,” said Ms Farrer.
Ms Line’s children have been taken in by her father, Rod Collard, a single man on a disability pension.
“I am trying to get them through school, it’s not easy. Rhonda is 10, Ashley 13 and Merle 16. The two older ones seek out their Mum and their Dad who left long ago, going back and forth. I know of far too many grandparents among our people taking in our grandchildren because of these harsh racist eviction policies.”
“I have brothers and sisters who are grandparents who are doing as I am in looking after the children.”
Ms Lines is homeless but looking for work which is not easy.
“It is non-Aboriginal workers they send out to meet with us every time someone in the neighbourhood complains about something. Only right at the end was there one Aboriginal worker who understood some of what we go through.”
“But these people who complain about us rarely front up to Court once the Department of Housing drags us through that process.”
Western Australia, the nation’s wealthiest jurisdiction, has also the nation’s highest homelessness rate, with more than half of it First Nations people despite First Nations people comprising less than 3 per cent of the State population.
Mr Collard said the three-strike policy “is draconian and must go, that it is inhumanely hurting not only the families who are being evicted, but also the families of families who are trying to support as many of the children as possible.”
“They are also traumatising and hurting the next generation of our people, as these children will grow up damaged in dealing with what their parents, what we grandparents, and what they themselves have had to go through.”
“People need to work with people and not toss out everyone on to the streets.”
“Who tosses young children on to the streets? Only a harsh selfish society does.”
“The three-strikes policy only serves to break up families.It ruins people, it makes things worse, that’s certain.”
Ms Lines said her 16 year old daughter suffers from epilepsy and regularly endures seizures.
“I am on medication to keep me going, on anti-depressants, I’ve no future, I don’t know what the future will be, I just pray that my dad can help my children but I see what he is going through. Those who make the smallest complaints about us they don’t see what they put us through.”
30 year old Roxanne Ali-Collard has two children, a two year old girl and a seven year old boy. The family of three were evicted in May 2012, for unpaid rent. Her children are being cared by their great grandmother while Roxanne, like Jacqui, has remained homeless ever since.
In 2011, there were 519 evictions of Aboriginal families in Western Australia, that’s the highest rate in the nation. The 519 evictions were double the rest of all remaining evictions but First Nations Peoples make up only less than 3 per cent of the State population but are more than 70 per cent of evictions. The 519 evictions are three-strike policy evictions, the Department of Housing has not released how many First Nations families have also been evicted after one or two alleged breaches.
The 519 evictions translate to more than 2000 children evicted, many in their first year of life.
Under the three-strikes policy, introduced in Western Australia in May 2011, tenants can be evicted after three offences in 12 months, which includes ‘offences’ such as ‘excessive noise.’
It does not matter if the breaches are for arrears, small or substantive, it does not matter if the breaches are for disorderly conduct and damage to property, you do not evict whole families, you work with them and stay patient – this is in society’s best interests, in the name of the common good.