Seven per cent of the Kimberley is homeless and for years this has not raised a word or whisper in our national media. I have been the only person in the nation writing about the Kimberley’s endemic and pernicious homelessness. How is this possible? Nearly half the population of the Kimberley is comprised of First Peoples and nearly all the homeless are First Peoples. But this is why it has barely raised a mention because the majority of the 97 per cent of the Australian population that is not Aboriginal just do not care enough.
We are still a deeply racist nation soaked up in the worst stereotypes and a concomitant disregard of others.
The Kimberley is pristine country and a tourist mecca but in the midst of this is the nation’s most extensive homelessness. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 638 per 10,000 population in the Kimberley languish in one form or another of homelessness. The Kimberley has the highest concentration of First Peoples in the nation – 46 per cent of the region’s total population are comprised of First Peoples. The Kimberley is also home to the nation’s highest concentration of Homelands – ‘remote communities’ – but many of these Homelands have been degraded by one Western Australian Government after another. Government after Government has failed to adequately upkeep these communities’ essential services let alone avail them to the full suite of services that non-Aboriginal communities throughout this continent enjoy. Water tanks are not adequately maintained, are not upgraded. One community spent fifteen years begging for clean water. Power lines have not been upgraded, and what should have been a given – solar power – has secured no serious investment from Governments.
Itinerant travel is a consequent way of life for far too many from the Homelands of the Kimberley. They have to travel in particular for health care as their own communities have been starved of services by our Governments. Many are lost to consequent homelessness. There are few hostels waiting for them in the larger towns – instead many camp with the homeless.
The Western Australian Government is one of the most neglectful Governments Australia has known. Despite its incredible wealth, despite the fact that Western Australians average the world’s highest incomes, Governments refuse to spread the love to the State’s First Peoples, to those whom they smashed with apartheid, mauled inter-generationally, induced chronic and abject poverty upon. This Government dishes out every form of racism – institutionalised racism, racialisation, racism.
The State Government does not do serious spends on First Peoples – on the social determinants such as housing and health. They only pretend to – dishing out token gestures and posturing. This is the State Government with the worst record in the nation on redress to First Peoples – whether it was the Stolen Wages – where they offered only $1200 one-off payments to the victims of the Stolen Wages – many had not received wages for decades. When it comes to racism, this is a criminal State – with assimilationist and exploitative ageing White fellas, alias lobbyists for the big end of town, for the mining industry filling our parliaments. Western Australia’s parliament is predominately a restroom of mining industry and big end of town fixers and lobbyists.
The State Government’s Department of Housing built 4,475 public houses in five years from 2010 to 2014. But we have 48,000 people on the public house waiting lists – 22,000 applications – with nearly 3,000 people on the priority waiting list. At this ridiculous rate there will always be unmet need. Many of those on the priority waiting list are large families – 9 children, 8 children, 7 children, families with babies, toddlers. Yet Western Australia is the wealthiest jurisdiction in the world’s 12th largest economy.
For the State’s First Peoples, only 494 public houses were built during those five years, and these homes, many I have seen throughout the remote – are second rate, third rate, fourth rate, cheap shacks. But hey, we are a racialised nation, it is alright to dish out hand me down cheap housing to our First Peoples.
In the last seven years, the Department of Housing has built less than 700 public houses for First Peoples. There are more First Peoples homeless on the streets than there are First Peoples in regional public housing.
The average rent in Broome is $650 per week – this means that not only is housing as a buy-in option impossible for the majority of the region’s First Peoples but that renting is not an option either. Kimberley families have waited 20 years for a public house, but the majority of the seven per cent I describe will be waiting forever and a day.
A few years ago, I cluster surveyed the Kimberley to better understand its homelessness. The Kimberley’s homelessness could be worse than it appears, worse than the 638 homeless per 10,000 population. Many of those caught up on Census night as staying over at a relative’s home may indeed be sleeping rough more often than not. The impact on far too many families assisting homeless relatives cannot be fully measured but it is easily imaginable.
After I released a report on the Kimberley’s homelessness barely a whisper was raised other than the Broome Advertiser’s Kim Kirkman writing a page 3 report on my findings. The West Australian newspaper did not care too much but tyro reporter, Jane Hammond managed to tussle in some coverage – although the editors kept it a hard copy story tucked away on page 28. You would think that seven per cent of a whole Australian region homeless should be a front page story with the damning indictment of sustained coverage and the urge for through-care journalism. Of course I covered this story in The National Indigenous Times but still it was not picked up by the mainstream press. Point is, that the seven per cent homelessness rate is one of the world’s highest homeless rates outside of displaced peoples from wars and civil strife. The other day, through-care journalist, John Pilger gave it a mention in one of his articles in The Guardian.
The Northern Territory also has a high homeless rate among its First Peoples – seven per cent. Ironically, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are the bedrocks of the mining barons, both the wealthiest jurisdictions in this nation.
There are no excuses for such appalling rates of homelessness.
Racism – indeed.