No more sleeping on it

Sleeping bags mark those who died on Perth’s streets last year, with the family of the latest victim calling for more social housing stock. Photo by Cole Baxter: http://www.colebaxterphotography.com

Family of dead mother plead for immediate housing action

FIFTY SIX sleeping bags laid out on the front steps of WA’s Parliament on Tuesday laid bare the grim toll of WA’s housing crisis during an evening vigil to its latest casualty, Alana Garlett.

The sleeping bags commemorated the 56 people who died homeless last year, and advocates estimate the death toll this year will be even higher, with rumours after the vigil another person had died near Yagan Square this week. 

Ms Garlett, a 38-year-old Noongar mother of six, was found unconscious behind Wesley Church in Perth CBD and lated died in hospital.

During the vigil, her family addressed the crowd and made emotional pleas for the McGowan government to urgently increase the social housing stock and get people off the street before more died.

“Please government, do what you can to house these people,” Alana’s sister, Michelle Garlett, said.

“The winters are getting colder, and the summers are getting hotter”. 

Ballardong Noongar rights activist, Herbert Bropho said the over-incarceration of Indigenous people was condemning hundreds to WA’s streets, where they made up 64 per cent of the homeless population. First Nations people are incarcerated at a rate of 3,820 per 100,000 in Western Australia – the country’s highest rate. 

“Stop locking people up, or this is what happens,” Mr Bropho said, gesturing towards the sleeping bags.  

“The laws have got to change,” he said. 

“We have no rights to this country.”

Between 2016 and 2019, WA also had the highest age-standardised rate of suicide among Indigenous people, being 34.6 deaths per 100,000 people. 

National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project director Megan Krakouer told the crowd those statistics were symptoms of a racist state system. 

“We are a wealthy state… how can we not have homes?”

“Mothers have their babies ripped out of their arms because they are homeless … there’s no care, no love”.

“It’s the original sin of the coloniser.”

Several speakers expressed frustration with big government grants going to corporations who weren’t providing the solutions needed for people doing it tough. 

“The money does not get to the people on the ground,” Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation CEO Mervyn Eades said. 

Opposition leader David Honey provided a sympathetic ear: “There seems to be a barrier that stops the money getting out of those big centres, actually to where the people live and where they need the services,” he said. 

Mr Honey said WA’s public housing stock decreased by 1,134 between 2017 and 2020 under the McGowan government, but his party would aim to increase it by 35 per cent – though that didn’t come as an election promise.

Mr Honey also criticised the Labor government over the $22 million corruption scandal at the Department of Communities in 2019, with some of the public funds siphoned off by former assistant director general Paul White having come from an affordable housing initiative. 

“A large amount of money was lining his pockets and funding his friends’ lifestyles … while people are dying on the streets,” Mr Honey said. 

“The reason the corruption was allowed to persist was because simply it was a straight administrative incompetence that allowed it to go on. 

“They don’t have the most basic controls in place to stop this sort of corruption.”

The premier’s office was still working on a response as the Voice went to the printers, but a staffer did point out the Liberal government was in power for about half the time Mr White was fiddling the books and had no clue.

by KELLY WARDEN

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