The Kimberley's homelessness rates the worst in the nation - nothing in the budgets to help them

Gerry Georgatos
The Kimberley, tourist mecca and resource-rich, has the highest rate of homelessness in Australia, and just about all of this homelessness is Aboriginal folk. The Human Rights Alliance released a statement describing the homelessness tragedy of the Kimberley as a scandal, and as "despicable racism", and slammed state and federal governments for continuing to neglect the Kimberley's Aboriginal homelessness.

Broome-based Indigenous film maker and anti-gas hub campaigner and a spokeswoman for Broome's old Aboriginal families Mitch Torres said there isn't anywhere in the Kimberley that is not affected by extensive abject homelessness - Broome, Derby, Kununnura.

"The homelessness is getting worse and no-one is doing anything about it. The shire and government have let it slide along. Hostels and housing that had been promised have been forgotten in the squabbles between shire and government," said Ms Torres.

"We've been waiting for a hostel in Broome where monies were promised by the state government ($12 million) but it didn't happen, it fell through, however our people are on the streets," said Ms Torres.

"Recently, meetings occurred with our Elders and shire and government officials and our Elders said that something has to be done about the homelessness, the itinerant problems, the lack of housing."

"They told us well this community has got two houses built and another one has got five houses built in the last year... what is this? Our Elders said what about the rest of the people, the majority of the people left to suffer, and how much longer when we know people do not make it through the suffering?"

The Kimberley's homelessness is officially nearly 700 per 10,000 and nowhere else in Australia comes half as close. It is one of the world's worst homelessness rates. However, this is a 2006 National Census figure and every indication is that it has got much worse - recent surveys extrapolated have the homelessness to 1,000 per 10,000.

The Kimberley has a population of 41,000 with 33 per cent of the population Aboriginal - 14,000 - however it appears homelessness among Aboriginal peoples has risen to between 15 to 25 per cent of the Aboriginal population.

"I can take you to the heart of Broome, to its Chinatown, to Dora Street and you'll see homelessness you've never seen before. I can take you to One Mile community, to Kennedy Hill, and the horror of it is right throughout the Kimberley region - Derby, Fitzroy, Kununnura, all the towns and communities. It's unbelievable that such a rich part of Australia has this horrific homelessness and nothing is being done to reduce it," said Ms Torres.

"They want to build a $35 billion gas hub in the Kimberley but they don't spend anywhere near that money to help our people," she said.

The Aboriginal deputy mayor of Broome, another spokeswoman for Broome's old Aboriginal families, Dr Anne Poelina has said that Aboriginal people should not have to strike the gas hub deal with the state government to get some funds so they can secure a little of what everyone in Australia is entitled to.

Broome-based Nyikina rights advocate and economist, Sofia Mirniyinna said, "Nothing is being done for our people, it just never happens. We are held to ransom that the mining companies will give us something in return for access to the resources on our lands because for most of the time governments let us rot and die."

"It is disgusting racism. We just do not matter. What does it take for us to be finally included in some of the hope and beauty in this world?"

"Reading the state budget as it came through what stood out is Aboriginal peoples aren't counted in, we don't matter once again."

At the last national census 1,870 Kimberley folk reported being homeless however this figure is now believed to be much worse, in excess of 3,000 say some organisations, especially with many homeless Aboriginal folk in the Kimberley not registered on the Census, and others giving addresses of relatives they stayed overnight with on Census night when in fact they are homeless.

A recent Kimberley-only survey by the Human Rights Alliance reaching 300 folk found that more than 10% reported homeless, and more than 80% said they were doing it tough. Disturbingly, more than 80% said they knew of someone who was homeless. In line with the 2006 and 2012 surveys more than 90% of the homelessness is Aboriginal folk.

With annual surveys recently completed by the Salvation Army (1,700 survey respondents) and the Human Rights Alliance (2,100 survey respondents) both saying the poor are getting poorer, and that poverty and homelessness are on the rise what is happening in the Kimberley is not a good look for Australia in light of the fact that Australia ranks number two in the world on the United Nations Development Program human index for social wealth, and also in that Australia is the world's 13th largest economy. Furthermore, WA boasts 46% of Australia's mining exports and boasts the highest per capita personal income in the country.

Homelessness in the Kimberley has increased since the 2006 National Census, with out-of-control rents due to the influx of mining workers and also because of inflation and spiralling cost of living pressures that governments have not subsidised for, communities in the remote are doing it toughest and with more folk moving to towns - Broome, Derby, Fitzroy and Kununurra - to sleep rough.

In 2006 the homelessness rate was 638 per 10,000 in the Kimberley with the next worst, the Northern Territory with 248 homeless per 100,000.

The Salvation Army say that homelessness has increased in WA, the nation's worst performer, and the Human Rights Alliance Indigenous spokesperson Natalie Flower said that they believed homelessness in the Kimberley is not just in excess of 700 per 10,000 however 1,000 in 10,000 with extended families heavily impacted doing what they can for their folk.

The 2006 Counting the Homeless report aggregated 13,391 West Australians with 1,870 in the Kimberley, and WA wide the rate was 69 per 10,000, the highest in the country, however the Human Rights Alliance said that with rising cost of living pressures, with more people going to the Salvos than ever before, with rising rents, with less home ownership, and with the Census not registering all Aboriginal folk that homelessness in WA is closer to 20,000, if not more - and more than 3,000 in the Kimberley.

NSW and Victoria have a 42 per 10,000 homelessness rate.

The Kimberley has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and its youth unemployment rate is the highest in the country. Australia boasts a 5% unemployment rate even though the real figure is 10% when people who have given up looking for work, or who are under-employed, are taken into account and included. Officially half the Aboriginal youth in the Kimberley are unemployed however Ms Flower argues that the real figure is 90% unemployment for the Kimberley's Aboriginal youth, and more than half of all Aboriginal folk in the Kimberley.

"Nothing has been prioritised for grafting employment opportunities, in providing adequate skills training and education for the Kimberley's Aboriginal peoples," said Ms Flower.

"Of course as the Salvation Army and we point out, as cost of living is getting harsher and rents are spiralling out-of-control well without any job to make ends meet then what we have is homelessness and broken lives," she said.

Ms Mirniyinna said, "It would only take a little investment by state government in our Kimberley communities to provide education, health, jobs and housing to our people, to our youth but they will not do so, because in the end they pretend that Aboriginal homelessness in the Kimberley doesn't exist."

"If Premier Barnett, Indigenous Affairs minister Collier and Housing minister Buswell cared about the Kimberley's homelessness, about the no jobs for Aboriginal peoples and our youth here, with Aboriginal youth suicide in the Kimberley highest in the nation, then they would have done something about it. Instead they care about Woodside, FMG, Billiton, and not about our people. I wonder some day if Barnett will explain to his grandchildren that when he was Premier of Australia's wealthiest state, when he presided over a mining boom, and that the Aboriginal peoples of the Kimberley had the world's worst homeless rate and the highest suicide rates in Australia," said Ms Mirniyinna.

The Kimberley has been in the news media with suicide rates among its Aboriginal population at 1 in 1,200 or over 80 per 100,000 - the nation's worst.

Despite the deaths there is no effective suicide prevention strategy being funded and administered in the Kimberley. Mowanjum chief executive officer Steve Austin said that the West Australian government is spending $150 million on the Derby prison while applications by the organisation for a Youth Coordinator to work with Aboriginal youth have been rejected.

"We get no help," said Mr Austin.

Nearly three years ago, Director of Legal Services at the Aboriginal Legal Services WA, Peter Collins wrote to the House Standing Committee on Family, Housing and Youth Inquiry into Homelessness Legislation. Mr Collins called upon the inquiry to consider that there are special imposts upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in terms of homelessness and that special advocacy and advisory bodies needed to be set up. Nothing has been done.

In recent times plans to build hostels in Broome for itinerants and the homeless have not happened despite promises from Housing minister Troy Buswell and the Broome shire. There has been no response from government to the National Indigenous Times. This failure to deliver promised accommodation for the homeless is WA-wide with Aboriginal folk also being let down in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, right throughout the Goldfields and Wheatbelts districts - there was nothing set aside for them in the state's May 17 budget.

"What are they waiting for? To set us up for an NT type Intervention and rub more shit in our faces? Our people bring home our dead from the streets and we give them the dignity that life under racist governments took away from them," said Ms Mirniyinna.

"Across my desk came a study that reported 'the number of completed Indigenous suicides (in the Kimberley) last year exceeded the Australian Defence Force fatalities in Afghanistan'. I cannot comprehend this statement. It is too much," said Mrs Yavu-Kamu-Harathunian
"They flaunt this extravagant spend in the Kimberley right in front of our peoples, who are homeless, who are itinerant, who are down and out, who live in over-crowded conditions, who don't have primary or secondary health care, who go without. We apply for one program after another and we get nothing, some of these programs are $20,000, others a total cost of $100,000 and yet they spend this in one day doing nothing. By the time they're done up here they'll have wasted millions - which could have been spent on saving Aboriginal kids, on better health care, on community activities," said Ms Mirniyinna
A tent, and old car, or a humpy made of tarpaulins and scraps of wood. It's not much, but some on the fringes of Kalgoorlie, it's the only shelter they have
Australia's homeless shelters are full to the brim and cannot meet new demand for their services
If someone can't get a lift, or a car breaks down, they're forced to stay for days or weeks at a time
refer to the four Aboriginal dialysis patients currently sleeping under tarps and tents and in cars on the outskirts of the Ninga Mia community, five kilometres from Kalgoorlie, which was also reported in the Kalgoorlie Miner of 25 November 2011
When it comes to housing, for Aboriginal peoples the crisis is deepening, Wongi Elder and Kalgoorlie's Ninga Mia Fellowship, Pastor Geoffrey Stokes said
A brief insight into homelessness in the Kimberley
Almost 200 people including women and children have been forced to live in tents for up to six months
Australia Homeless Statistics
The 2001 Population Census data:
99,900 houseless people in Australia (105,304 in 1996)
54% adults over 24 years of age
10% under the age of 12 years
36% young people between 12 and 24 years
42% of houseless people were female
58% were single (58,116)
19% were couples (18,840)
23% were families (22,944 people or 6,745 families
In 2012 it's much worse, many more too...



This is tragic, just sheer tragedy, is anyone other than Gerry and a few others care about this, is our government listening at all?
I'm devastated after reading this article.

The homelessness statistics kept by the government are a lie, just like their Unemployment statistics and their Inflation statistics. All set up to tell the story they or the corporatocracy want told.

The actual unemployment rate is about twice that quoted (I recently saw a article on this and I believe it). And inflation is one or two percent, yeh right, sure, at least 3 times rate I say.
And homelessness is 100,000 people around Australia, yeah sure. I expect this figure to be low by a factor of two or three.

And if you look at those who are housing in secure you could be looking at ten times this.

Everyone is suffering at the moment, and those that suffer the most are the ones on the bottom of the economic system, sadly a group in which our Aboriginal Australians are far too often over represented.

Personally, I want to thank Indymedia Australia - this story was first reported on this site, which I do consider a bona fide news media site, and indeed I know mainstream news media does scan Indymedia to source or back up stories. The story has now been covered by The West Australian newspaper (30 May), the Broome Advertiser will feature it tomorrow, the National Indigenous Times will run a major feature on this tragedy on June 6, NITV has featured it, various radio and the rest are coming - and this is important because how else will we get parliamentarians and those with the capacity to make a difference, to remedy this tragedy?

Gerry Georgatos

Alarm over Kimberley homeless rate

Author: Jane Hammond
Publication: The West Australian (28,Wed 30 May 2012)

Housing crisis A community human rights group says homelessness in the Kimberley has reached alarming levels and estimates that as many as one in every 10 people is sleeping rough or couch surfing there every night. The Human Rights Alliance says up to 3000 people in the region, most of them Aboriginal, are homeless with an estimated 600 living in makeshift shelters on the fringes of towns, in marsh land or sand dunes. The group visited communities in the Kimberley and collected more than 300 questionnaires as part of a series of cluster surveys. Alliance convener Gerry Georgatos, said the situation for many Aboriginal people in the Kimberley was dire and the rates of homelessness were growing each year yet there had been nothing in State or Federal Budgets to address the issue. He called for urgent action to relieve the shortage of emergency accommodation and affordable housing in the region and said as a first step the State Government should commission its own review of homelessness there. Data from the 2006 ABS Census found the Kimberley had the highest rate of homelessness in the nation, with 638 homeless for every 10,000 people. That figure was nearly 10 times the State average and well above the second worst, the Northern Territory, with 248 per 10,000. Father Matt Digges from the Broome Catholic Diocese said his outreach centre had seen an increase in new people using its service in the past year and was struggling to meet demand for emergency relief. Shire of Broome deputy mayor Anne Poelina said anecdotal evidence suggested more people were sleeping rough in and around Broome and many Aboriginal families were living in severely overcrowded homes as they accommodated friends and relatives who had nowhere else to go. Housing minister Troy Buswell said 263 social housing units had been developed in the Kimberley since 2010, and a further 129 new homes and 307 refurbishments were scheduled for completion this year.