Family of eleven – nine children – evicted onto the streets
Homeless: Jonathon Eades. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian
Western Australia is hard on its Aboriginal peoples – on the surface it appears it has little empathy. Last week, a young Noongar family was evicted by the Department of Housing from the only home that some of their children have known – and with nowhere to go.
The Eades family was devastated. According to the Department of Housing they had breached the “three strikes rule.”.
Mother Carmen Slater was beside herself as the bailiffs turned up to enforce the order.
“Tell me where are we supposed to go, where do I take my children?” asked Ms Slater.
Her partner Tyrone Eades said they had lived in their home for five years.
“Why cannot the Department of Housing assist us in ways forward? Why can’t they understand our situation?” asked Mr Eades.
Like the sky-high arrest rates, imprisonment rates, homelessness rates, youth suicide rates in Western Australia, eviction rates hit hardest Aboriginal peoples. The State’s 80,000 Aboriginal peoples, less than 3 per cent of the total population are disproportionately represented. They make up half the total numbers in prison, homelessness, suicides despite being less than 3 per cent of the total population.
Police were called in to back up the bailiff’s court ordered move-on notice, and discussions were not to be countenanced. How can the Government support the removal of a family from their suburban Perth home and on to the streets?
The youngest child is a baby, shy of 12 months old, with the eldest of the nine children 17 years old. But the Department of Housing reckons they have breached the “three strikes behaviour management policy” and therefore that they have to go. But rights advocates have argued the “three strikes” policy as draconian.
Noongar woman and law student Marianne Mackay said that Aboriginal peoples are unfairly targeted.
“Anyone who thinks our people are not targeted are crazy. We get on a train and we are targeted. We bump into someone we are arrested. We speak up we are hounded. It is disgusting and outrageous to put babies and children on the streets. But well let us face it that white privilege still has its day and being black is to be a potential target,” said Ms Mackay.
The family were told that they should head to a women’s refuge.
“Why should I go to a women’s refuge? Can someone explain this to me?” said Ms Slater.
“There is no domestic violence in my family.”
“We pay our rent, but we are being treated like criminals.”
“Why couldn’t the Department of Housing work their problems with us instead of put us out on the streets like we don’t count?”
The parents are worried that their family will be torn apart and hence made dangerously vulnerable. Ms Slater is distraught in wondering where some of her eldest children will finish up and how she and her partner will have to fend for the younger ones. Last year her mother passed away and she does not know to whom else to turn to.
Police escorted tradespeople who covered the windows with plywood.
The West Australian newspaper (July 4, 2013) reported that neighbours had complained of “wild parties, public drunkenness, crime and violence.”
The newspaper report stated, “(The neighbours) reported assaults, fear and threats that their houses would be burnt down if the police were called. They were glad the Eades family was leaving.”
This makes little sense from a humanistic perspective. Why would it be preferable to evict a family of eleven, nine children, and not instead prosecute only the culpable behaviour?
The WA Housing Minister, Bill Marmion, justified the eviction with the picture-perfect summary lines of “get on with your neighbours, look after the property, and pay the rent.”
He referred to a “tenancy-related debt of $3,000″ but did say that it was not taken into account when the decision to evict was made.
An advocate of the family said that the majority of any trouble had more to do with one of the teenage sons who is very ill. He suffered brain damage from meningococcal disease and remains a long-term hospital outpatient.
The advocate made the vital point that the displaced family divided between the streets and a number of homes that may take them in interim would only ensure dysfunction and in all likelihood finish up family members with chronic health problems and into prison.
It has been thus far a record year for the Department of Housing, with a total number of evictions thus fear this year equalling the total number of evictions for 2010. To the end of May this year, 222 tenants have been evicted.
The “strike policy” was introduced in 2011.
Excluding the Northern Territory, WA has the nation’s highest homelessness rate, with Aboriginal peoples nearly half of it. In the Kimberley region, Aboriginal peoples are 90 per cent of the region’s homelessness.
The eviction policy is WA-wide with Kimberley MLA Josie Farrer, a Kija woman, telling The Stringer that Department of Housing officials are often reticent to explain themselves.
“Evictions are a huge issue and not just in Perth but in the Kimberley too – for instance in Kununurra an elderly lady is facing eviction over a $500 water bill,” said Ms Farrer.
“Where is this Aboriginal lady, in her eighties, supposed to go? This type of callous behaviour and lack of mediation is disgraceful and racist.”
When it comes to the Department of Housing Kalgoorlie’s Wongi Elder and Ninga Mia Fellowship Pastor Geoffrey Stokes has much to say.
“Our people are always put last and it is up to us to stand up as a people and speak up about the inhumanity.”
Last year he went to bat for two Goldfields’ families that had been evicted from their public housing under the State Government’s “three strikes” behaviour management policy.
“What is more anti-social, someone’s behaviour at a particular moment that we can work together to address or the Department of Housing’s behaviour in putting families and children on the streets?”
The policy makes it possible for the Department of Housing to pursue eviction of a tenant “after one dangerous incident or two serious disruptive incidents.”
Pastor Stokes led protests outside Kalgoorlie’s Department of Housing for Dulcie Nannup, Anthony Maher, Jannell Woods and their children. Upon eviction the families finished up in the nearby shanty-like area known as Ninga Mia where families sleep under corrugated iron, tarpaulins and cardboard. About 100 homeless Aboriginal peoples crowd Ninga Mia, which is without water.
Pastor Stokes said it had been distressing to accept any situation where any family, but particularly with young children, were forced to live in the appalling conditions that existed at Ninga Mia.
Ms Slater, Mr Eades and their nine children have no Ninga Mia in Perth to turn up to. They will have to find for their baby, for their ill teenage son, and for their other seven children somewhere to sleep. They will have to do their best in the middle of winter in seeking out extended family who can help them out, despite it meaning that their family will be divided between several homes. Otherwise they are at risk of losing some of their children to the Department of Child Protection.