Trying to catch a break

Sharra Roberts and her daughter Alice, whose health is declining since their eviction. Photo by Steve Grant

KICKED out as WA went into Covid-19 lockdown, Sharra Roberts’ fate is one that could be facing more state housing tenants if a moratorium on evictions is lifted, advocates fear.

After thumping a neighbour she claims made inappropriate comments to her young kids, Ms Roberts was given her marching orders by WA’s housing department in early April, despite not being charged by police. She missed 

a crucial court hearing, believing it was about the dispute, and found herself without a roof over her head just as the WA government was telling everyone to stay at home.

Since then it’s been a heartbreaking spiral.

Ms Roberts and her three-year-old daughter Alice found shelter sharing a caravan with her mother Susan, but there wasn’t enough room for a 14-year-old girl she was caring for whose mother is doing time.

The teen’s now ended up on the street where the prospects seem grim: “I try telling her that boys will respect her more if she doesn’t put herself out for sex, but she’s going her own way, she’s not hearing,” Ms Roberts said.

One of the issues in her previous tenancy had been the troubled kids she’d allow to use her house as a safe haven, but in a cruel twist of fate, her mum’s caravan was burnt to the ground in what’s suspected was an arson attack by a bunch of kids she didn’t even know.

“We were out the back having a cup of tea and we didn’t even smell the smoke because it was blowing the other way; I felt the heat,” Ms Roberts said.

In minutes, the pair lost everything.

The only option to keep her young daughter from sleeping in a park was moving into an older daughter’s house.

It’s got two bedrooms and nine people living there, so Ms Roberts and her mother are sleeping on sofas and floors; their beloved dogs rotated just to get time for a wee outside.

Her biggest concern is young Alice’s health, as she was only just recovering from a bought of pneumonia 18 months ago and recent health checks show her lungs have stopped developing.

“Usually I would take her in and warm her up but I can’t do that now,” she says.

“She is stressed because she keeps saying ‘mum, when can we go home to your place’.

“I keep crying, I keep breaking down all the time.”

Alice’s case also has social workers at Fiona Stanley Hospital worried; in correspondence seen by the Voice they’ve urged the housing department to put her back on a priority list.

“Appropriate housing with a proper heating system will help her to manage her condition better,” one worker noted of Alice’s persistent bronchitis.

But Alice’s health isn’t the only problems her eviction has created: she earned a $25,000 bill for repairs and “rubbish removal” after her eviction, which she believes has been overly-inflated by opportunistic contractors.

There’s no doubting Ms Roberts contributed to her next looming disaster; she’s facing an assault charge and expects a stretch in prison after attacking a relative she believes was trying to steal her puppies. But she says it’s almost impossible protecting your possessions while homeless, and if she had her own place she wouldn’t have been put in such a difficult situation.

Ms Roberts and her mother say one of the problems with WA’s state housing model 

is its inflexibility, believing things could have worked out differently if they were allowed to get a house together to support each other. A few years back the older woman was kicked out of her own Homeswest unit when the department discovered she’d put her daughter up against the rules.

Unless that changes, they’re running out of options; in a month’s time her daughter has another woman moving into the house and the sofa her mum is currently sleeping on won’t be available any more.

by STEVE GRANT

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