Rockingham homeless people rubbish claims of McGowan Government assistance
A group of homeless people who are living in a shanty community in bush within the Premier’s electorate have rubbished his claims the Government was working hard to help them secure proper accommodation.
Mark McGowan this week said the Department of Communities, police and local services were assisting the camp residents to access housing.
His comments came after one of the people who lived in the bush, 56-year-old Lawrence “Laurie” Lewis, took his own life. Mr Lewis had become the public face of the issue after appearing on the cover of The West Australian when this newspaper first broke the story about the shanty town and its conditions.
Mr McGowan’s comments drew a strong rebuke from Mr Lewis’ friends still living there.
“If the Government was coming out and offering me somewhere to stay, (then) I’d be taking it,” camp resident Tracey said.
Almost three months after first speaking to The West, 31-year-old Tristan said he was still trying to secure housing.
A lack of identification was continuing to hinder his ability to put together the necessary paperwork, he said.
“I’m still on struggle street out here,” he said.
“The ones actually helping us are the Salvos. I haven’t been offered anything from the Government.”
Mr Lewis’ daughter Lauren said her dad would “help anyone and everyone”.
“My whole life he showed me and my siblings that everyone is equal and no matter what, to always treat people in need with open arms,” she said. “I can’t express enough how much this man helped people in need.”
Department of Communities assistant director-general Jackie Tang said it was committed to addressing the “complex issues” at the heart of the shanty town.
Staff from the local Department of Housing office were also engaging with residents through the Salvation Army and local Christian group The Crew.
“Some people have accepted this assistance,” Ms Tang said.
“In some cases ... the complexity of their needs and aspirations is not simply fixed with accommodation.
“For some of those involved, their relationship with government and community had broken down over time and building trust for positive change will not happen overnight.”
Ms Tang said the Department of Communities had assisted six people with applications for housing.
A Salvation Army spokesman said there had been an increase in demand for services offered by its Rockingham branch.
Julie, who said she was a former partner of Laurie, told of her enormous guilt at having managed to secure housing just a few days before his death.
She said homelessness had “broken him”.
She had scraped together the bond and two weeks rent for the room with the help of Rockingham Salvation Army.
“(Laurie) just couldn’t do it any more,” she said.
Many of those living rough in the Rockingham camp said unaffordable housing and the rising costs of living had forced them on to the streets, with the $550-a-fortnight Newstart allowance impossible to live off once rent was paid.
According to Census data, Rockingham had a 4 per cent rise in its unemployment rate from 2011-16, with the latest figures revealing there were 5941 people without a job.
Former mining boss Michael Kiernan has become a key figure in the fight against homelessness in Rockingham.
The Saint Benedicts Homeless Foundation founding chairman had been working closely to create accommodation and work opportunities for the homeless in Kwinana before plans were scrapped because of a lack of support.
“People are finding reasons why they can’t do things, but we have people in the bush who don’t have anywhere to go tonight,” he said.
If you require assistance contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Salvos on 13 72 58
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