Whadjuk Noongar grandmother Patricia Williams knows the importance of a safe and loving home.
She was stolen from hers as a young girl as part of generations of children taken under Western Australia’s government policies of the day.
From mission to matriarch
“I was four years old when I was taken away. As they came to take us, my dad was fighting the law because he wanted his kids back,” Ms Williams told NITV’s The Point program.
“My memories of that day are still so vivid; I have flashbacks waking up in this place with complete strangers… being abused, put to work at five years old, and not knowing what a cuddle is, being flogged.”
It’s why the threat of eviction from her current home of 11 years in Perth’s northern suburbs feels so terrifying.
“(My house) represents my family and being comfortable and being safe — being happy because we're together where they're safe and we're looking after and caring for each other,” she says.
“Up to a dozen people at a time stay here... Cousins who live on the streets come home and stay with me, when they're feeling unsafe; my grandchildren — the home is the stability for them.”
But two years ago she became unstuck. She became overwhelmed with trying to manage everything, and retreated.
The risk of homelessness was imminent.
“I was in a situation where I was going, I was in my room and I didn't want to come out of my room,” she says.
“I couldn't deal with nothing, and I was saying if I’m going to live on the streets I’d better planning for it now or thinking about it, but I just preferred to go in my room and lock myself in there and not deal with anything, with anybody.
"It's the stress about everything, the inspection. The bills and keeping my rent up to date. And just trying to keep on top of everything.”
She felt she had nobody, and no choice but to eventually end up on the street.
That is, until she started talking to Jenny Kaeshagen, the director of the First Nations Homelessness Project on social media.
History of success
The project stepped in, as it has for 344 families in similar circumstances, on the precipice of eviction, over the past six years.
It’s founder Ms Kaeshagen says it boasts a 97 per cent success rate in preventing evictions, and with it homelessness and child removals.
That’s why she doesn’t understand why the projects funding has been discontinued.
It will close within weeks if the Federal or State Government doesn’t step in.
“It doesn't make sense. This is a project with a huge success rate, an unusually high success rate, because it's so tailored to meet the actual need,” she says.
She said the federal government’s decision to revoke $1 million in funding after funding the program since 2017 came as a shock.
“It doesn't make any sense. Community can’t figure out, our families can't figure out, our staff can’t figure out why this is occurring when we are delivering exactly what is required to be delivered.”
Two years on, Patricia Williams credits the service with saving her life.
“They’ve helped me stay in my home, and they took that stress away from me, that heartache you know,” she says.
“I’ve began to heal both physically and mentally. I've come out of that room and started helping myself and they’ve encouraged me to do that, and stood by me to do that and continue to do so.
“That's so important. And I thank them from the bottom of my heart for that.”
She has issued a plea to the Federal and State Governments to step in and fund the program.
“In my situation I thought I had nobody to help me,” she says.
“So, you know, we really need First Nations Homelessness people.
“We really need the government to support them and to get them funding.”
In a statement, the Federal Government said the First Nations Homelessness Project had received $4 million in funding since 2017, but improving housing and homelessness outcomes remains a state responsibility.
The National Indigenous Australians Agency said the original funding was to fill a service gap to support Aboriginal housing clients, and the West Australian government is now launching a similar service.
The WA government says it has invested more than $100 million a year in specialist services and programs for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, including programs such as THRIVE, which focusses on early intervention to support families and individuals at risk of eviction.
"Funding decisions are based on a range of factors including demonstrated need, evidence-informed program delivery and program sustainability,” a spokesman for WA Housing Minister John Carey said in a statement.
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