Indigenous affairs

Government urged to act on homeless deaths

Aboriginal community members gather outside Western Australia’s Parliament in Solidarity Park. Photo by Olivia Di Iorio

The Aboriginal community in Perth has come together outside Parliament house urging Premier Mark McGowan to do more to provide appropriate housing for those facing homelessness.

The state budget will be handed down in early September, with campaigners calling for funding to build public housing.

A report provided by the Department of Communities found a significant overrepresentation of Indigenous Western Australians in the homeless population.

Peta Garlett stands in Solidarity park outside Parliament house. Photo by Olivia Di Iorio

Fifty-six people have died on WA streets in the last year, according to data from UWA’s Home2Health research program.

Aboriginal woman Alana Garlett was the most recent homeless death in June.

Ms Garlett was a mum of six who had lived on the streets of Perth since she was fifteen.

A vigil for Ms Garlett was held on Tuesday, with fifty-six sleeping bags laid on WA’s Parliament steps. 

Following the vigil, a number of homeless Aboriginal people have set up tents at Solidarity Park, directly behind Parliament house. 

Peta Garlett, Alana Garlett’s Aunty, says when you’re homeless you witness the saddest deaths and experience a lot of loneliness. 

“I support my mob, but I’ve got my own home. I don’t walk away from them.”

Desmond Burton is one of the protestors who has stayed at Parliament for the past two nights, since the vigil.

“The union says we could stay for as long as we want, and we’ve got elders who are supporting us staying here and helping the mob,” he says. 

Mr Burton says he wants any surplus budget money spent on building houses. 

Activist John Kent says there should ideally be housing reserves along the Swan River so Aboriginal people can keep living their culture, and have access to a fire all through the winter. 

Left to Right: Desmond Burton, John Kent & Juliette Miller at Solidarity Park. Photos by Olivia Di Iorio

Juliette Miller is a retired nurse now working with homeless people after her time volunteering in Fremantle’s tent city earlier this year.

Aboriginal Peoples are disproportionately affected by the housing market.

“I hear of the stories of how people survive. This harsh winter has been so cruel and difficult for people,” she says.

“If you give an Aboriginal a four bedroom home with a backyard, you’ll get about ten other people off the waiting list, that’s a culturally appropriate model of housing.”

According to Rethink Social Housing, public housing accounts for only 4% of total available accomodation in WA, with over fifteen thousand people on the waitlist. 

Jesse Noakes, campaigner with House The Homeless WA, says Aboriginal people face issues both in public and private housing.

“In the private market they face extensive discrimination from landlords who, for various reasons, don’t want to rent houses to Aboriginal people,” he says.

“When it comes to the public housing market, Aboriginal people usually have larger family units where they have cultural and family responsibilities.”

Mr Noakes says these cultural obligations often cause issues leading to the State government, as a housing provider, choosing not to support them. 

Premier Mark McGowan told reporters he wasn’t aware of the vigil or the homeless camp.

Mr Noakes says that response is not good enough.

“I find it difficult to believe he didn’t know, considering there were articles and I also sent him an email informing him of the vigil, there’s also been a camp with large banners, tents and flags directly opposite parliament in the last three days,” he says.

“He’s choosing to pretend otherwise because he has no response to the issues raised by the vigil.”

Categories: Indigenous affairs

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