Forty-one-year-old Vivian Porter, originally from Alice Springs, has been sleeping rough in the Perth suburb of Victoria Park for around a year.
The same day that Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan announced the city would be going into a hard COVID-19 lockdown, Vivian was discharged from Royal Perth Hospital, where she had spent three days undergoing treatment for chronic health issues.
The next day, the first full day of lockdown, she was among a group of Aboriginal people from remote communities approached by a WA Police patrol and told to disperse from a public park where they had gathered.
“They came up and told everyone to leave. I was left here alone,” she told NITV News.
With nowhere to go and local crisis accommodation shelters at capacity, Vivian wandered the streets for a few hours before returning to the park.
While she had been gone, rangers from the Town of Victoria Park placed infringement notices on her few possessions, including a foam mattress, pillows, blankets and clothing.
The notices advised that she faced a fine of up to $5000 for “illegally dumping” her bedding in the streets.
When Vivian woke up and left the bedding the next day, it was seized and destroyed by rangers.
“I don’t know where it went. I had been around all day, waiting for my case-worker and going to the bank. When I came back, all my stuff was gone”.
With her bedding destroyed, she prepared for a night sleeping on the ground, bandages from the cannulas that went into her arms during her recent stint in hospital were still visible.
Vivian says she is currently on WA’s public housing waitlist, and has been homeless since losing her last state housing. But the streets are dangerous she says, with sexual and physical assaults common.
‘A pathway to prison’
A spokesperson for WA Police confirmed that on the first full day of lockdown, “a couple of people were spoken to and advised that they could not camp or consume alcohol (in Victoria Park)”.
NITV News understands that the people are regulars in the area.
The spokesperson said responsibility for managing homelessness during the lockdown was a matter for the WA Department of Communities.
“Being homeless is not a criminal matter, and police are continuing to take a ‘compliance with compassion’ attitude during these difficult times,” the spokesperson says.
WA’s peak housing and homelessness body, Shelter WA, said the lack of coordination between local and state governments was not acceptable.
“It's completely unacceptable that during lockdown people in WA are still left sleeping on the street. Service providers are being swamped by people who are sleeping rough and seeking help,” CEO Michelle Mackenzie says.
“We need to up-skill local councils so they know how to respond. Some are taking proactive steps to link people to the proper services, but others are taking a punitive approach.”
Mackenzie says fining people for sleeping in the streets created “a pathway to prison”.
“We have a housing system in crisis. We just need to build on some of the positive steps the government has taken to get people into safe housing”.
Shelter WA estimates around 1000 people are sleeping in the streets across Western Australia every day, with over 15,700 households are on the waitlist for social housing.
UPDATE: NITV News contacted the Department of Communities and the Town of Victoria Park for comment.
Glenn Mace, Acting Executive Director State-wide Services from the Department of Communities had the following response:
"Communities and its sector partners are working closely to prioritise delivery of practical supports to people currently sleeping rough, including ensuring they have food provisions and access to the correct PPE.
The advice of the Chief Health Officer and the Department of Health will be followed in all circumstances.
Communities understands the complex issues that influence chronic homelessness outcomes and work with its sector partners to provide appropriate supports.
Communities is prepared to assist the 41-yearold woman to return to Alice Springs when travel restrictions allow."