21/01/2021 - 15:59

Residents speak from Freo's tent city

21/01/2021 - 15:59

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Fremantle’s tent city has become a political battleground this week, but community members have stories which are deeper than the soundbites.

Residents speak from Freo's tent city
It has been estimated more than 70 people are staying at the encampment. Photo: Jesinta Burton

Fremantle’s tent city has become a political battleground this week, but community members have stories which are deeper than the soundbites.

The tent city community has been under way since Boxing Day, when a group called Freo Street Kitchen hosted a lunch event at Pioneer Park for homeless people in the area.

According to a media report at the time, organisers also planned to provide shelter, while video footage from the group showed a handful of tents in the park.

That, and the involvement of at least one campaigner who had a high profile role in the Extinction Rebellion movement, has led Premier Mark McGowan to claim the event organisers were trying to cause disruption.

Opposition leader Zak Kirkup appeared at the site earlier this week to promise 100 new short term accommodation beds around Fremantle, and Mr McGowan responded by saying there were already beds available.

While one community member told Business News they were at the tent city to support the movement and otherwise had a home, others said they had been homeless for extended periods.

Tent city resident Max, 50, said he had been couch surfing for six months since release from prison.

He had first been on the streets when he was 16, and has since raised six kids, including a daughter who owned a business.

“I want to have a roast on a Sunday,” Max said, referring to his lack of permanent accommodation.

He told Business News he did not live with his daughter because, he alleged, his daughter’s partner was aggressive.

He said he appreciated those people who had supplied food and assistance at the camp.

But Max disagreed with Mr McGowan’s view on bed availability.

“They’ve got beds where?”, he said.

“St Pat's (a nearby shelter) is fully gone.

“You couldn’t swing a cat in that place.”

He said he had intended to stay at the encampment for a week but would now probably stay another month.

Richard had also struggled to find a place to live after leaving prison, and said he had received minimal support to get on with his life.

“A lot of the guys have that problem,” he said.

“They get out, go back on the drugs, on the drink.

“(I’ll stay here) as long as it takes.

“There are a lot more people out there that are homeless.”

Richard said he was accessing government support payments, but said he could not afford accommodation because of medication costs, child maintenance allocations to his partner, and a debt to the Housing Authority for a previous tenancy.

To put that in context, the current rate of JobSeeker is $715.70 per fortnight, with a further $139.60 available in rent assistance, if both payments are at the maximum rate for a single person without dependents.

Prior to all this, he said he had been married with a house and business, but sold the business and left the house to his wife when he caught her cheating.

“(Politicians) can say what they want,” he said, referring to the battle of words between Mr Kirkup and Mr McGowan.

“What I want them to do is come down here and live in our shoes for a week.”

Marilyn, 65, said she lived in a suburb nearby and was at the park to support the cause.

“We’re just looking to be housed on our own country,” she said of the tent city movement.

Marilyn, who is an Indigenous woman who lived through the stolen generation, said that period had been extremely damaging for her community.

She said she felt Aboriginal people were still treated differently by the authorities than white Australians.

“It doesn’t matter what we say, nothing is going to change,” Marilyn said.

“When you’ve got a race that rules and dictates you, you don’t have a chance.

“I’ll be at this park every day because I don’t live far from here.”

Local community organisations such as St. Patrick's Community Support Centre and Wungening Aboriginal Corporation have been sending teams to the site regularly to support people sleeping rough and encourage them to access services nearby.

A spokesperson for the tent city, Jesse Noakes, said the number of homeless people in Fremantle had roughly tripled, from 60 in March 2019.

Mr Noakes said the premier was incorrect to assert beds were available. 

“Why are people sleeping in a park if that’s the case?,” he said.

He said the government had decommissioned more community housing properties than they had constructed in the past four years, and there were 1000 fewer homes than previously.

The Department of Communities did not respond to a media request to verify this number by the time of writing.

“If the premier has got places for these people to go, he should come down and present them to them,” Mr Noakes said.

“Support is nothing without the basic foundation of a home.

“I think they (the Labor Party) would want to make good on that promise.

“I think the opposition leader has called the premier’s bluff, but the crucial part is that someone needs to come down here.

Simone McGurk did come across and speak to people at the park, but I would argue that it takes more than a supper time conversation with a handful of people to determine what these people need."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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