Too many taken too young

 • Noongar mum Alana Garlett: the average age of people who died on the streets last year was just 47-years-old. Photo: FacebookAlana Garlett, who recently passed away while sleeping on the streets. Picture Nic Ellis The West Australian

NOONGAR mother Alana Garlett was the most recent homeless person to die on Perth’s streets, after new data revealed 56 homeless citizens were lost last year. 

After a freezing night spent sleeping on the steps of Wesley Church in Perth CBD, Ms Garlett was hurried to Royal Perth Hospital, where she died early in the morning on June 18.

She was buried by her family last Friday.

Children

Ms Garlett left behind six children to be cared for by her father and mother, who suffer from dementia and severe diabetes, respectively. 

House the Homeless Campaign spokesperson and founder of Day Dawn advocacy centre Betsy Buchanan has known Ms Garlett’s family for many years. 

“Alana’s parents were homeless over a long period too,” she said.

“As a result, Mr Garlett’s dementia has become more severe and Mrs Garlett, who is his sole carer, is on kidney dialysis three times a week.”

In a House the Homeless media release, Dr Buchanan said Ms Garlett wasn’t the only Noongar person to lose their life too young, whilst homeless. 

“We have supported several other families who have lost children to homelessness in the past few weeks,” she said. 

Dr Buchanan and other First Nations housing advocates are calling for the McGowan government to fund 10,000 more social housing units, saying they are sitting on a $5 billion surplus.

In WA the supply of social housing steadily decreased from 44,087 to 42,953 between 2017 and 2020. 

Up from 15,000 last year, there are now more than 16,000 people languishing on the social housing waitlist, which has a wait time of almost two years. 

Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation CEO Mervyn Eades said premier Mark McGowan should be following in the footsteps of Victorian premier Dan Andrews and top up WA’s dwindling supply.

“Victoria did it with their budget, building thousands of public houses for people who need them, especially Aboriginal families and people with mental health issues,” he said.

Housing crisis  

 Last year, Victoria’s 2020/21 budget included a historic $5.3 billion Big Housing Build, to construct more than 12,000 new homes over four years. 

This includes 9,300 social housing units, of which 10 per cent would “support Aboriginal housing needs”. 

 Dr Buchanan said: “The state budget in September must include a substantial commitment to public housing to fix WA’s housing crisis before it kills again”.

Last year, there were 56 known deaths in the Perth homeless population, according to data from UWA’s Home2Health research team, headed up by associate professor Lisa Wood. 

“The average age of death was a grim 47 years,” she said.

“Those experiencing homelessness are dying on average over 30 years earlier than the general Australian population.” 

The team’s research shows the longer people are sleeping rough, the more their health deteriorates. 

“Basics for good health, such as sleep, good nutrition, protection from the weather, and physical safety are elusive if you are sleeping on the streets,” Dr Wood said. 

Compounding this “medications are often stolen or lost, and people can find it difficult to book or get transport to health appointments”, she said.

It is also harder for people experiencing homelessness to access prevention and screening services for illnesses like cancer or diabetes. 

Recent team research found that three quarters of Homeless Healthcare patients had at least two long-term chronic health conditions. 

Dr Wood said “deaths of despair” are also causes of fatality amongst rough sleepers. 

It refers to deaths caused by drug overdoses, suicide, and alcohol-related disease, amongst people who have experienced compounded socio-economic disadvantage. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been reported overseas to have further exacerbated the likelihood of deaths of despair.”

by KELLY WARDEN

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