'Streeties' organise for housing rights

July 8, 2011

The Perth community has witnessed in past weeks an inspiring mobilisation of people affected by homelessness or as they like to be called, the “streeties”.

It started as a small rally to protest against the treatment of those living on the streets during the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and against insensitive comments made by Liberal police minister Rob Johnson. Now it has broadened to challenge the government on homelessness.

At a June 17 rally organised by the “streeties” to protest against Rob Johnson’s comments, the minister himself came out to address the crowd, claiming that he has “known hard times”.

The minister was speechless when asked by a 19-year-old homeless activist if he had ever lived on the street. The activist showed the minister injuries he had received from an attack with a machete as a result of not having a safe place to sleep – both his arms in casts and stitches in his head. He has been on the Homes West waiting list for three years – there are currently 700 vacant Homes West houses in WA.

Also at the rally was a young couple living on the streets, unable to find housing because they are under 18 so not legally able to sign a lease. They squat in an alleyway, even in Perth's current cold spell.

Opposition MP Mark McGowan also came out to address the crowd but Minister for Housing Troy Buswell didn’t take time off from eating lunch.

On May 30, homeless activist Corey Wilkinson chained himself to the front of Buswell’s office, after the minister had refused to meet him a for month. He demanded the minister come out and “answer some questions”.

Buswell refused to come out of his office or arrange a meeting. He did however make a prompt exit from his office to a cabinet meeting in his chauffeur driven car – lying down in the back seat so he could not be seen.

This action was followed by attempts to arrange an appointment over the phone. When a 16-year-old homeless activist made one such attempt, she was told by one of Buswell’s receptionists: “Fuck off, you’re a pest”.

Wilkinson has announced he is running as an independent candidate against Buswell in the upcoming state elections.

This has catalysed an onslaught of actions by people affected by homelessness. A Homeless Action Network has been formed, with Wilkinson as the convener. The group has obtained sponsorship from a variety of outdoor and food stores to receive such products as jackets, sleeping bags and food to distribute to the “streeties”.

Other members of Homeless Action Network are fundraising for “Swags for the Homeless”, a program to distribute swags to alleviate the harsh conditions of homelessness.

One fundraising effort is obtaining sponsorship for cycling 400 kilometres from Perth to Albany. Perth Resistance organiser Kate Massam will take part in the bike ride.

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