Over the past week I have been seeing a number of posts popping up on social media by prominent Noongar activist, Herbert Bropho.
Uncle Herb has been going down to visit a group of rough sleepers, located just blocks away from Perth’s main train station since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Australia.
“I’ve been going to the city since Australia got this message of this disease that has been spreading around the world,” Uncle Herb said.
“What I’m getting is the feeling of rejection that no one cares but everybody is afraid of this ghost that is called COVID-19,”
On Thursday, Uncle Herb invited me to meet the mob he had been regularly checking in on.
When we arrived on Thursday morning, I was introduced to the group who were sitting down against the wall. Everyone had travelled down from all different parts of the state including, the Kimberley, East Pilbara and Goldfields; these were all country mob.
There were roughly 10 people sitting in the area. Uncle Herb showed me the two camps, one where there was food and a tent, and a second camp with blankets, clothing and rubbish.
“They reckon the Western Australian police came in here and chucked everything around, so where is the safe place for these mob?” he said.
As we spoke, a police vehicle and City of Perth patrol car arrived. Unlike many Aboriginal people, Herbert Bropho is not afraid of the police and he approached them to ask why they were there.
After a few moments, he rushed back down to where we were with a warning.
“They’re coming to clear this spot away."
Five police officers arrived on bikes to approach the group, now down to four people, with two others asleep in the tent near us.
A garbage truck arrived, beeping and backing up toward us as we sat surrounded by police officers and City of Perth rangers.
Workers from the a nearby worksite came out to watch, and I continued filming, looking around to make sure that no one was being arrested, whilst also trying to remember what my rights are when filming in a public place.
Uncle Herb called out to the police not to talk to his wife, who was sitting in her car, and shortly called out that he had to leave.
“I got a move on notice because I’m protecting the homeless and the vulnerable,” he said.
Neither of us had anticipated what would happen and I knew that I needed to stay and film and make sure my mob were all right.
Many had already cleared out but I continued filming the officers as they approached a woman named ‘Wendy.’
Wendy had a broken arm and was the first person here that I had met. She seemed vulnerable and I stayed close to make sure she was OK and to see what would happen.
I counted six officers standing around and watching as the rangers gathered up the groups scattered belongings and threw everything including shopping trolleys and then into into the trucks.
Wendy had been slowly filling up her trolley with her one good arm, and her trolley was piled high to the point of spilling over.
“Wendy, it’s been over 10 minutes and you keep talking to everybody and you’re not moving on, 500 metres from here is your move on,” one officer said to her.
“If you don’t move on, you will be arrested and taken to the station,” another says to her as she tried to pull her loaded trolley with her one arm.
As the people moved out from their temporary home with what they could carry, the rangers moved in.
After an hour, the police left and both of the camps had been completely cleared.
Everything had been loaded into the truch and there was no evidence that less than 90 minutes earlier this place was home to around a dozen people.
I had no idea where everyone had gone, and whether they would be able to find another place by that evening.
I later caught up with Uncle Herb after the whole ordeal and he said that he had a message to the WA Police and the State Government.
“What you have done today is so disgraceful to me, it makes me so sad as an Elder to watch my people get pushed around at a time like this,” Uncle Herb said.
“We are trying to find a safe pace for our people to be but you just keep bringing us down,” he said.
When I asked WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson about what happened – he said he was unaware of the incident - but that the police are doing what they can to support Perth’s homeless.
“Look, certainly we can't have them congregating together for the same reasons as everyone else, so we’re being as sympathetic as we can,” Commissioner Dawson said.
Earlier this month, the WA government announced a pilot program to house 20 out of the city’s estimated 1000 rough sleepers in a 30-day trial.
I had also approached WA Premier Mark McGowan and asked if the government will be doing more to accommodate homeless people in the city.
“We’re doing the trial with the Pan Pacific [and] we have the homelessness package with the wrap-around services, that’s the extend of what I’m aware that we’re doing at this point in time,” Mr McGowan said.
Last December, the McGowan government announced $72 million investment into developing two facilitates to provide permanent affordable housing as part of a 10-year plan.
A response team for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic has been established by the homelessness services sector to co-ordinate responses and to work with Government on specific initiatives.
In a statement provided to NITV News on Friday, a Western Australia Police spokesperson confirmed they attended the Aberdeen Street location on Thursday along with City of Perth officers.
"Police attended in response to a request for assistance from the City of Perth. The City of Perth attendance related to complaints of anti-social behaviour and litter in the area creating safety concerns," the statement said.
"Attempts were made to engage the group with services and offer them support in the days prior to them being moved on."