While homeless Aboriginal people sleep on Albany’s streets, a housing complex built for them has remained empty for more than two years after being closed for “anti-social” behaviour.
The Paddy Coyne Complex in Mt Melville was closed in June 2019. At the time, it was under the management of the Southern Aboriginal Corporation, who relinquished control of the nine residences, it said, due to unruly tenants. The homes have remained vacant ever since.
Noongar Elder Eugene Eades told the ABC that just last week, more than 15 Aboriginal people were sleeping on the streets in Albany, in Western Australia’s south.
“It’s built specially for Aboriginal people, I don’t see any Aboriginal people in the buildings, it pisses me off I’ll tell you the truth … It’s not fair on families [who are] housing [these] people and overcrowding their own places because of the three-strike system that’s in place with housing these days,” he said.
Department of Communities Executive Director Lindsay Hale told NIT the complex was managed by various community housing organisations between 2009 and 2019 before being closed.
“The complex is not suitable for occupation at this time whilst future use options are being actively explored. Options for the safe and positive future use of the site are being considered in consultation with local stakeholders, including Aboriginal corporations,” Hale said.
The fate of the Paddy Coyne Complex has raised the question of how anti-social behaviour would be addressed at similar facilities, including the new Boorloo Bidee Mia complex opened in Perth earlier this month.
Hale said a similar fate could be avoided.
“Wungening Aboriginal Corporation and Noongar Mia Mia will implement and deliver culturally informed responses, tenancy management and lodging support to residents of Boorloo Bidee Mia. Communities is confident that delivery of a safe, culturally appropriate and effective service will occur, and that these values will be a priority at all times.”
The Indigenous homelessness crisis in WA was reinforced again in June with the death of Alana Garlett, who was found gravely ill on the streets of Perth and later died at Royal Perth Hospital.
Research by the University of Western Australia released this month found that of the 56 people who died homeless on the streets of Perth in 2020, 28 per cent were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
On Tuesday, House the Homeless WA said the latest data shows a “staggering 50 per cent drop” in the provision of public housing under the current State Government.
Homelessness advocate Dr Betsy Buchanan OAM said that in WA last year, “the public housing crisis caused at least six times as many deaths as COVID”.
“The WA housing crisis … hits First Nations families first and hardest.”
“We are losing vulnerable First Nations people at a rate of more than one a week again this winter. I dread morning phone calls at the moment. Too many are from distraught family members bearing the worst news about another child dead on the street or in a park,” she said.
“In a State with a $5 billion budget surplus … the Government can fix this … they must build 10,000 public houses over the next four years to stop these tragedies.
“If they choose not to use their massive budget surplus to fix this crisis, that is on them. It will kill more people before winter is over.”
‘Tent cities‘ have also been established around the metropolitan area to provide both shelter for homeless people and to highlight the need for urgent action on the matter.
In Fremantle, the site of one of the tent cities, there are grave concerns about the closure of the Foundation Housing centre at 100 Hampton Road, scheduled for the end of this year.
Hale said the Department of Communities were told of Foundation Housing’s decision to exit their lease agreement in November last year.
“Communities is committed to ensuring the accommodation provided at 100 Hampton Road Fremantle remains available to all residents,” Hale said.
“Communities and Foundation Housing are committed to working together to ensure a successful transition of the residents and the building to a new provider before December 31, 2021.
“Both agencies are confident that this will occur. Foundation Housing continue to manage the building on behalf of Communities until the end of their lease.”
More than 1,000 people sleep rough on Perth’s streets every night, and more than 10,000 people are homeless across the State.
By Giovanni Torre