Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in suicide prevention and with people living below the poverty line. Here they write about the increasing levels of street-present homelessness.
Street-present homelessness is on the rise throughout Australia and First Peoples are grossly overrepresented in the data.
First Peoples comprise over one quarter of all forms of homelessness across the country, despite making up less than three percent of the national population. The rates are much higher in WA and the NT.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), six percent of the Territory’s population is experiencing some form of homelessness. Nearly all of this homelessness is comprised of the Territory’s First Peoples.
The ABS also tells us six percent of the WA Kimberley region’s population is experiencing some form of homelessness. Once again, the majority are First Peoples—more than ten percent of the region’s First Peoples are experiencing some form of homelessness.
In Perth, street-present homelessness has also increased, with 41 percent of Perth’s street-present homeless being First Peoples.
While public housing is a major part of the solution, there is a horrendous lie that needs to be addressed: the idea that our governments are doing everything they can to build social housing. In reality, homes for our nation’s poorest are fewer than at any time in the past few decades.
The States and Territories are responsible for the construction and maintenance of public housing. The Commonwealth provides financial support through the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement and also provides support through the Commonwealth Rent Assistance Scheme.
More than two-thirds of Australia’s households are made up of homeowners or mortgagees. Another 27 percent are private renters. Until a few years ago, four percent of Australian households were public housing. Sadly, presently only three percent of Australia’s households are public housing.
While the ACT currently has the highest proportion of public housing at 6.8 percent, WA has fallen below three percent.
The WA Government is now touting plans for two Perth-based multilevel buildings with 70 units each and claiming that the first building to help reduce homelessness will begin construction in 2022.
It is a step in the right direction, but it is a very small step. We will believe it when we see the construction begin because one government after another has failed homeless Western Australians over the last 15 years, with promises of developments that never get built. This is evident in promises for developments in Broome, Kalgoorlie and Perth that never eventuated.
The path to increased levels of homelessness is being paved by the lack of political will. The WA Government is ‘planning’ to build 550 public houses but public housing has declined by nearly 1,400 houses in the past three years—a steep drop of four percent of public housing stock.
Contextually, less is being done today than at any time in the last three-quarters of a century; since the government of Robert Menzies established departments of public housing.
Nationally, 150,000 applications for public housing have been submitted—translating to nearly half a million lives. In WA, there are more than 14,000 applications for public housing—translating to nearly 45,000 lives.
Public housing does not come free for its residents, there is rent. Between 25 to 30 percent of the gross household income is deducted by the Department of Housing as rent.
WA must build 15,000 homes and end the waiting list to eradicate street-present homelessness. There is no indication this will happen, but every indication that applications will continue to grow, waiting lists will become longer, and that street-present homeless will increase with disproportionate impacts on First Peoples.
We work closely with the homeless and each day someone arrives at our offices unannounced looking for support. It breaks our hearts that one of the most affluent regions in the world, Western Australia, mistreats our homeless as lepers historically were.
We began this article with the heart wrenching knowledge of news of one less homeless person on the street—he passed away during the coldest of nights on his pavement pillow.
By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos
Megan Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and 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.