‘Dying on the streets’: At least 44 homeless people have died in Perth this year | Lodging


At least 44 people known to homelessness services have died in Perth in the first nine months of 2021, researchers have found.

Associate Professor Lisa Wood of the University of Western Australia said hospital records matched to service provider client lists confirmed that all had experienced homelessness in the past four years.

About 30 of them were known to either have no fixed address or were sleeping rough when they died, Wood said, while other cases were still being assessed.

Wood said the average age was 49 (53 for men; 41 for women) and that 32% of those who died were identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The research team was still working to determine the causes of death. Some cases were with the coroner.

“It is a bane to our society that is not going to go away unless people are housed and supported faster,” said Wood.

Western Australia has faced the death rate among the homeless in Perth’s central business district in recent years.

An investigation by the West Australian newspaper in September last year first revealed that Wood had identified at least 30 homeless people in Perth who had died in 2020.

In August, Wood released a final tally that revealed the 2020 count to be 56.

There have been protests over the death of Alana Garlett, a Noongar mother of six who suffered from breathing difficulties when she died on the streets in July. Garlett was 38 years old. His death is currently the subject of a coroner’s inquest.

In the weeks following Garlett’s death, two other homeless women, both in their 30s, were found dead in the CBD, one of which was discovered hours after advocates held a vigil for Garlett nearby. Both were treated as non-suspects.

“It’s tragic that our people are dying on the streets,” said Desmond Blurton Cuiamara, a man from Ballardong Noongar, a housing advocate who has spent the past few months sleeping on the streets and surfing on the couch with his family. .

“You have all these things that keep us from having a home… They break our morale. “

“It’s tragic that our people are dying in the streets”: Ballardong Noongar man Desmond Blurton Cuiamara at his sister’s house. Photograph: Duncan Wright / The Guardian

As the March state elections approach, the McGowan government has come under fire for the growing homelessness crisis in Perth, an issue highlighted with the emergence of tent cities and a popular campaign demanding more housing social.

Last month, the government pledged to spend an additional $ 884 million to build 3,300 social housing units.

A government spokeswoman said “the death of anyone, regardless of the circumstances, is tragic and heartbreaking for those around them.”

“People who are chronically homeless often have complex needs related to health, mental health, disabilities, abuse and addiction,” she said.

“The McGowan government is focused on improving outcomes for vulnerable Western Australians, including those sleeping rough.”

“Deaths of Despair”

In other countries, such as the UK, data is collected on homeless deaths, but no official records are kept in Australia.

However, since mid-2016, the Home2Health team has been tracking outcomes for Perth’s homeless population.

Matching data on homelessness and health services with hospital records, Wood said 255 people known to these services had died in Perth since 2017. The average age of death was 47.

Weekend registration in Australia

The research uses the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition of homelessness, which includes people living in overcrowded and substandard housing.

However, Wood said those identified usually sleep rough, or “in and out of crisis housing, they live in backpackers, couch-surfers, tents, their cars.”

She expected the numbers to be an understatement as they did not cover outlying areas of Perth or people unknown to health services.

Associate Prof Lisa Wood of the University of Western Australia
“It is a scourge for our society which will not disappear if people are not housed and supported more quickly”: associate professor Lisa Wood. Photograph: Supplied

Most people have died of what researchers call “deaths of desperation,” including suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related conditions. But last year, five people also died from cancer, Wood said.

She said homelessness itself resulted in poorer health outcomes and its effects often stayed with people even after they were housed.

Dr Andrew Davies, chief executive of Perth-based Homeless Healthcare, said many of those identified in Wood’s research were known to his organization.

Dr Andrew Davies with Neil, who died of cancer in September 2020, and another staff member
Dr Andrew Davies with Neil, who died of cancer in September 2020, and another staff member. Photograph: Tony McDonough / Homeless Healthcare

The charity provides community health care to people on the streets, in clinics and through an outreach service at Royal Perth Hospital.

Davies said most clients struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues and other chronic health issues.

“The usual thing is to have the three together, what they call tri-morbidity,” he said.

Neil died of cancer in September 2020 after 10 years on the streets
Neil died of cancer in September 2020 after living on the streets for 10 years. Photograph: Tony McDonough / Homeless Healthcare

While overdoses were still the most common cause of death, Davies said many are increasingly developing with cancer.

“By the time they collapse on the street and someone calls an ambulance, if it’s the cancer that’s driving this, it’s too far along,” he said. “It’s a very big problem.

Homelessness on the rise as the economy booms

In August, the Zero Project’s nominal list, which lists people linked to community services around Perth, found the number of homeless people had risen to around 995, including 426 street sleepers. This represented an increase from the 628 homeless in November 2020.

At the last count, there were 17,320 households on the social housing list, or about 30,000 people. This is an increase from 14,000 households at the start of last year.

Of these, 3,488 households are on the priority waiting list because of an “urgent need”.

In August, only eight people in the database received a housing placement.

“It’s sad that there are people dying on the streets,” said Shelter WA CEO Michelle Mackenzie, who praised the government’s commitments. “I think this illustrates a system that is broken.

“Unfortunately, successive governments have underinvested in social housing, so we are catching up.”

Betsy Buchanan, a housing advocate for more than four decades, said racism was also a factor, aside from the shortage of rental housing, including a private market with vacancy rates at their lowest in 40 years.

Research has suggested that native Washington state applicants wait longer on the priority public housing waiting list and are more likely to be evicted.

Buchanan said the controversial “three-strike” state eviction policy had disproportionately affected First Nations. “It has incredibly increased the number of homeless people,” she said.

Mackenzie said the government needed to adjust policies that meant people were released from its own institutions – such as hospitals or prisons – into homelessness.

“The most depressing thing this nation can do for its people is not give us a home,” said Blurton, who was released from prison and became homeless. “That’s the first thing about Aboriginals, it’s our home. Where we belong. We are on our own land and we have no home.

The homeless crisis in Perth unfolded against the backdrop of a booming economy.

“When you talk to one of the guys at homeless health services overseas, they always say it does the opposite of what the economy does,” Davies said. “This is in large part because of the cost of rentals.”

Housing advocate Jesse Noakes, who was part of the successful campaign for more social housing, highlighted the recent deaths of three Indigenous women on the streets.

“The fact that marginalized young women die so frequently in such a small area, it should be a national scandal,” he said. “This is a burning indictment against this state and this government.”

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Mackenzie said a new government-funded 100-bed homeless service to be run by an Indigenous-controlled organization suggested the government was listening now.

It is also opening the state’s first 24/7 medical recovery center for the homeless, and a new “common ground” housing complex that will include 70 self-contained apartments linked to wrap-around services.

A government spokeswoman said it had developed the state’s first homelessness strategy during its first term and pledged to spend more on social housing than any previous government.

She said the government funded the list by name to improve data collection and service delivery to homeless people.

The spokeswoman said the government had not been able to verify the death figures among the homeless.

The crisis assistance services are available 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide reminder service 1300 659 467; Child helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond the Blue 1300 22 4636

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