A shanty town hidden in bush in Perth’s south has become a makeshift community for the beaten down who can’t afford to live anywhere else.
The camp is just metres from a road linking the Kwinana industrial strip to suburban Rockingham in the electorate of Premier Mark McGowan. Scrub keeps them secret from passing motorists, and residents of the shanties yesterday described how they felt invisible to the outside world.
They said a rising cost of living, limited allowances and a lack of crisis accommodation in the city’s south had left them homeless. Many grew up locally and sleeping rough in bush was their only way to stay in the area.
Now home to 17 adults, the tent set-ups range from the basic to more sophisticated areas with baths, barbecues and even TVs.
Tristan, 31, has been living at the camp for a month.
“It’s easy to get a bond together (for a rental property) but the issue is putting together identification to secure a place,” Tristan said.
“Places want you to provide past water or electricity bills, but when you are sleeping rough, you don’t have anything like that, so without that paperwork you are stuffed when trying to find a house.”
He said a lack of crisis accommodation in Rockingham had forced many people to live rough.
“If we are offered accommodation it is always in Fremantle or the city, so we can’t stay near here,” he said.
“I think a lot of people choose to stay here and sleep rough so they can stay in the area they are from.”
The stench of recently burnt bush lingers after several fires over the summer months threatened the camp. Despite sections being piled with rubbish, many of the people have made an effort to make it as homely as possible.
Laurie, 56, has been homeless on and off for several years, and has been living in the camp for the past five weeks with a friend. His patch of the camp has been transformed, with a separate bedroom, living area, kitchen and bathroom.
When sleeping on the streets, Laurie said he would be woken most nights to his belongings being stolen or the threat of violence.
“I feel safe here and I’m not scared. I can have a decent night’s sleep,” he said.
Raising his two sons as a single father, Laurie said he had been plagued by mental health issues and one day walked out of his house and never returned.
He has a small generator for power and brings water to the site. There are also two hoses in the centre of the camp for fresh water.
Some occupants pointed to the amount they were paid through Newstart allowance, about $500 a fortnight, as the reason they were homeless.
Laurie said he previously spent almost all his allowance on rent, with only $38 a week left to survive on.
“If it was affordable I would pay rent, but if there is accommodation I am not aware of it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, where are they going to move us?”
Germaine spent time living in her car last year and recently moved into the camp to stay close to her children who live in the area.
“I’m just trying to live a healthy and happy life,” the 45-year-old said. “We have been cleaning up, I take out the rubbish each day.
“I don’t see anything wrong with the way we are living, we all have our little goals. We aren’t sitting on our arses all day. I don’t want to be forced into living with anyone.”
The land is owned by the State Government development agency LandCorp, which two weeks ago issued the residents a 48-hour move-on notice to force them out.
LandCorp industrial lands authority general manager Andrew Williams said complaints from nearby industrial tenants had been received about the camp.
He said that as a heavy industrial area, it was unsafe for occupation. “The safety of all involved is a high priority and as such, a move-on notice was necessary,” he said.
Homeless advocate Jonathan Shapiera said many of the people had made the camp their home, and a more sophisticated approach was needed to assist them, rather than just kick them out.
“No one has gone to visit them and talk about what is happening,” he said.
Rockingham police say they are working with the council and LandCorp on the matter.
Local homelessness organisation C.R.E.W said it was aware of the camp and provided the residents with food, clothing and blankets, but said when helping to find them accommodation, they had to look to shelters in Fremantle because there was nothing in Rockingham.
A proposal to establish a homeless shelter for 31 men by St Patrick’s Community Support Centre in Shoalwater is facing strong opposition. The matter is yet to be considered by the City of Rockingham.
Rockingham mayor Barry Sammels said the council had been working with the Salvation Army Outreach team, street chaplains and WA homeless advocates in an effort to support the people in the area.
Mr McGowan said local advocates had told the Government the number of people sleeping rough was considerably down than in previous years. “But we do recognise that homelessness is an issue in many suburbs across Perth, including Rockingham,” he said.
He said the Rockingham/Kwinana Homelessness Interagency Group was “doing some very good work in the community” and acknowledged “there’s always more that can be done”.
“There is no easy fix for homelessness. It is a complex issue and people experiencing homelessness are often contending with a number of issues such as mental illness, family and domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse issues or financial problems,” he said.
“The State Government is committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness, working closely with our community sector partners to deliver a range of services to those in need.”