Politics Opinion

WA Government has betrayed its homeless

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WA Premier Mark McGowan has shown little compassion for the state's homeless citizens (Screenshot via YouTube)

Despite ranking among the wealthiest Australian states, WA is still ignorant towards rescuing its homeless population, writes Gerry Georgatos.

WHEN WILL THE CRIES of the homeless be heard? Is there some sort of grotesque caste system in Western Australia? The anti-humanism is a brutal public spectacle. Late on the last day of January, the Western Australian Government actuated five days of effective quarantine of the Perth and Peel regions to reduce the risk of a more contagious strain of the coronavirus spreading. But the street homeless are left without a roof over their heads.

The rough sleepers of the Perth and Peel regions number close to 1,000.

Western Australia was alarmed by the positive test of a citizen to the more highly contagious UK strain of the coronavirus. So alarmed, in Perth, Peel and the South West, schools were closed, most citizens were told to stay home and everyone when in public ordered to wear face masks.

The UK strain of the coronavirus has been argued as a “super spreader” among clusters of people. The street homeless try to survive in clusters. Are they not the most-at-risk?

How seriously are we to take the Western Australian Labor Government’s austere lockdown which has barbed virtual borders around Perth, Greater Perth and Peel from the rest of the state when they remain repugnantly obstinate in stranding the homeless to the streets? The near 1,000 street homeless are left to languish as if an ostracised leper colony. It’s a merciless Orwellian nightmare, a grim Dickensian tale.

Why does the nation’s wealthiest state, one of the world’s wealthiest regions, fail the street homeless at every twist and turn? It is fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic and in general over the years, Western Australia has done less for the street homeless than every other state and territory. This exceptionalism makes no sense, as Western Australia proportionally is the nation’s wealthiest region, a powerhouse economy with state budget surpluses year after year.

Everyone has been ordered to wear face masks when outside their homes but do the street homeless have face masks and will they wear them? If one street homeless person were to contract an acute coronavirus contagion, would it not be spread?

It is heartless, criminal and brutally anti-humanist to languish the street homeless as if lepers and invalidate them as if they’re next-to-nothing. Yet, this is happening right before our eyes.

What happens if a street homeless soul contracts the UK strain? The street homeless weather a lot of pain, ailments and debilitation before they see a doctor, or if it all. Many of the street homeless I know do not visit health professionals.

The street homeless are among our most vulnerable sisters and brothers healthwise, with comorbidities and many with acute respiratory illnesses. If one of them contracts the contagion, it will spread. Is there some sort of morbid hope the homeless are killed off by the virus? This would be genocide. I do not believe this, but I do sense heartlessness.

It is estimated five percent of our street homeless die each year on the streets. Last year on Perth streets, we lost 40 souls. They died on the streets, carted to morgues, pauper funerals.

If the contagion hits the streets with a super spread, we could lose many more this year. We have got to house the homeless.

Our humble service has for years supported many of Perth’s street homeless and many are scared, while others have long ago given up hope. Many feel they do not matter to the rest of society.

Where is the love? Where is the humanity?

Since the Western Australian Labor Government came to power four years ago, they have gone backwards with social housing — fewer homes than when they started. Over 1,200 fewer public housing properties. The State Government has only bought about 24 social housing properties in the past year. Officially, at least, 24,000 people remain on the waitlist. At this rate, it will take only 1,000 years.

There are also nearly 900 social housing properties vacant and this is an indictment of a government betraying the most vulnerable. Thereabouts 700 of the properties are now undergoing maintenance works, we are led to believe. Since December, three have been allocated and 156 of the properties are listed as available. It is a slow burn, slow crawl with this government.

Western Australia is fast becoming the nation’s backwater, already an embarrassment.

We must see society, one another, from many eyes. We must speak what the heart sees and knows.

I have written widely on a genuine housing first approach and the supports needed for the one-in-five street homeless who will need a modicum of psychosocial assists to thrive once housed. Housing security, for everyone, should be an immutable societal accord.

Gerry Georgatos, the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Master in Human Rights Education and a Master in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration. He is the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP).

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