Women in Tent City beg for protection
WOMEN living in ‘Tent City’ on Northbridge’s fringe have called for urgent shelter to protect them from escalating rates of sexual assault and violence.
The camp, perched beside the train line and a bike path under the Lord Street overpass, has been expanding and the Voice understands a couple of its new residents are newly out of prison.
The deteriorating conditions have support services deeply concerned for the women who live there, particularly two who are pregnant.
“Someone’s gonna to die there really soon,” one told the Voice, saying they believed the reports of sexual assault are “credible”.
One woman said she rarely felt safe in her tent and a decent night’s sleep was a rarity. She’d previously had encounters with men who’d tried to prey on her vulnerable situation which had pushed her onto the streets.
The hopelessness of her situation is unbearable: “I just can’t do this any more,” she said through tears.
The evidence of violence is all too obvious, with many of Tent City’s residents bandaged and scarred.
“They’ve been hit with sticks and stones and bottles,” one of Tent City’s residents, Raymond, told the Voice.
“They’re cut up, they’ve lost teeth – I’m not sure if you’re gonna put them on a cash register in Coles,” he said.
UWA homeless healthcare researcher Lisa Wood said they weren’t isolated incidents.
Prof Wood said an ongoing four-year survey found that while only half of homeless men indicated they’d been attacked on the streets, over two-thirds of homeless women had experienced an assault.
“This is a really pervasive issue – that women on the street are more vulnerable,” said Ms Wood.
“Sometimes women have said to us that that’s why they use meth – to stay awake at night so they’re safe.”
Back in Tent City a man known as Uncle Neville said he hadn’t slept properly in the three years he’d been homeless.
“When you sleep, you sleep… but what you’re more worried about is your sister-girls and your nieces,” he said.
He said he’d spent most nights “walking around to see if everything’s okay”.
“Get these young women off these streets.
“They don’t deserve to be on the streets,” he said.
Ms Wood, said about a third of the babies being taken into care at King Edward Hospital, are coming from mothers who are homeless.
“It’s really hard to engage women who are homeless into anti-natal care because they are scared of having their babies taken from them”.
A woman named Shona said a backpackers had been promised to the residents of Tent City.
“Ummmmmm, what’s happening with all that?” she said.
Meanwhile Uncle Neville warns unless housing can be found for Tent City’s residents, the violence will be impossible to contain and may spill over into the surrounding streets.
by KELLY WARDEN