IN a suspected arson attack, Tent City in East Perth went up in flames at 10pm last Wednesday, turning the fenced-in campsite into a potential death trap.
No-one was in the section of the homeless camp under the Lord Street overpass when it caught alight, but witnesses say that if there had been campers, no one could have escaped the blaze.
The tents and campers’ personal belongings were hemmed in by chicken wire and barbed fencing, with only one gate in or out.
Neville Riley, who’s been staying in Tent City for a few months, said, “it would have been very hard for someone to get up and run to clearance”.
Wall of fire
The fencing was also covered with tarpaulins to keep the area shaded during the day, turning into a wall of fire when they caught alight.
While it’s unclear what started the fire, Uncle Neville thinks someone from the camp may have started it in a fit of frustration or “jealousy” with the other campers.
“I would say someone did it deliberately because things weren’t going that person’s way,” he said.
Tent City was sleeping up to 50 people on any night, but on Christmas Eve many residents began moving into temporary accommodation, paid for by the Wungening Aboriginal Corporation.
Five families – about half of Tent City – were staying in hotel apartments in the city when the fire started.
However, advocates say the accommodation hasn’t been paid for since January 1, with no sign of the McGowan government dipping into the $3.8 million it committed last year to get the homeless residents into housing.
They’re worried that if any of the five families are kicked out of the hotel, they’ll be forced back into a death trap, with the rest of Tent City still camping precariously.
Uncle Neville says the delay in the flow of funds has left residents wondering what the government’s commitment was about.
“Maybe the fire was a wakeup call to the government to just hurry up with what you’ve promised,” he said.
“I haven’t got no accommodation, I’m still on the streets”.
The Department of Communities says it’s having a meeting on Thursday January 14, to discuss the next steps.
by KELLY WARDEN