Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. Here they write about the First Nations Homelessness Project, a project which ensures children and families are housed.
With the highest rate of Indigenous children removed by child protection authorities, over 3,000 First Nations children are currently in the care of the State.
Many have fled and are either transient or street-present homeless.
As a result, Western Australia now has among the nation’s highest rates of Indigenous children who are street-present homeless.
We have experienced mothers on the streets—rough sleepers—with their newborns. There are toddlers on the streets. They sleep on pavements and in parks, alleyways, and other squats; exposed and vulnerable to the elements.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, First Peoples comprise at least one in four of Australia’s street-present homeless. In Western Australia, they comprise more than half of the street-present homeless.
What will it take for Governments to house homeless children and street-present families with children as young as babies?
It took a video capturing the excruciating death of George Floyd to galvanise civil dissent globally. Yet there have been countless such deaths over decades, during our lifetimes. The body counts mount.
Do we have to wait for excruciating video footage of homelessness; of a homeless woman abused; of a homeless man beaten to a pulp by passers-by; of a homeless child sexually assaulted?
Jennifer Kaeshagen has spent more than half a decade working with the most vulnerable.
In February 2015, Kaeshagen set up a volunteer group, the First Nations Homelessness Project (FNHP). This volunteer group supported the homeless and inspired many of Perth’s good citizens, with the volunteer base eventually exceeding 1,500.
The FNHP housed homeless young families, but soon found many more families at risk of eviction. During 2016 and 2017 the organisation prevented the eviction of one First Nations family after another. Soon they would be inundated.
To slowly but surely chip away at the growing numbers, the FNHP took a triage-based approach. The eligibility criteria prioritised First Nations families with young children who had been issued a termination notice by the Department of Housing.
The FNHP model is based on assertive outreach and intense psychosocial support. They work with families to address the underlying factors which led to a termination notice or final warning before termination notice being issued in the first place.
They also work with families to reduce the future risk of eviction. The FNHP supports families long-term to improve their circumstances, recognising that these families are among the poorest in the state.
A small team of 14, the FNHP’s reputation has flourished to the unprecedented extent that the Department of Housing and the courts step back and let the organisation do their work.
The FNHP has a 95.8 percent success rate of preventing evictions. Where an eviction has not been preventable, the FNHP has on every occasion ensured transition to a relatively positive circumstance and continued their support.
The FNHP has been a beacon for those struggling in Perth’s social housing scene. Western Australia has the nation’s highest eviction rate of families from social housing:
In the last three financial years, the number of evicted families has exceeded 500:
- 680 families evicted 2016-17
- 562 families evicted 2017-18
- 589 families evicted 2018-19.
These figures have been provided by the Department of Housing—and half the evictions were of First Nations families.
Unfunded until October 2017, the FNHP thrived off donations and goodwill. The Commonwealth’s National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) has funded the FNHP since, allocating $1 million per year to the project.
The WA Government is yet to fund this Perth-based project.
Since the NIAA came on board the FNHP has prevented over 300 evictions of First Nations families—mostly of single parent or single carer families. This has equated to more than 1,200 children with a home instead of on the street.
FNHP psychosocial tenancy outreach worker and Noongar woman, Mona Yarran, said she loves seeing the difference she makes to others’ lives with her work.
“What drives me is that working with grassroot community brings me the joy when a family knows that someone is actually there to help them, but also giving the family the strength to take control of their own life and getting back on their feet,” Yarran said.
“We lift up [and] encourage the families to empower themselves [to] get back to leading their own family.”
Kaeshagen said the FNHP has a tight-knit team.
“Each of us [know] what each other does and [we intertwine] our different expertise,” she said.
“It’s often said organisations and services work in silos, independent from each other, but it’s true of workplaces too. Collaboration is vital and we do our best to take collaboration within our team and with the families to the levels needed.
“The closeness of our outreach workers, accountable to each other, soaking up each other’s work, improves the support to affected families. This is a form of transparency and professional development often lacking. We live and breathe one another and as a result keep our eyes on the ball: the families.”
By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos
Editor’s Note: Gerry Georgatos was the First Nations Homelessness Project’s inaugural part-time manager for 12 months. He also produced the submission for funding to the Commonwealth.
Megan Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s south west. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery (NSPTRP) and also works as a human rights legal practitioner for the National Justice Project.
Gerry Georgatos, the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration. He is the National Coordinator of the NSPTRP.