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Australia Perth's streets are in the spotlight as race to become the city's next lord mayor heats up

03:07  20 september  2020
03:07  20 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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The suburbs of Perth and Northbridge were combined until 1982 when Northbridge was established as a separate suburb. List of streets in East Perth . List of streets and paths in Kings Park. List of streets in West Perth .

a man sitting in front of a building: Shonna Brown says temporary shelter is an important first step in helping people living rough. (ABC News: Hugh Sando) © Provided by ABC NEWS Shonna Brown says temporary shelter is an important first step in helping people living rough. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Shonna Brown has been living under the Lord Street bridge in East Perth for the last few months.

Out of the rain and out of the sun, the semi-sheltered area has been a haven for many people sleeping rough in Perth.

Tents line the bike path, more are spread out on a grassy space behind a hole in the fence, and around 40 people call the camp home every night.

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Homelessness has been a hot topic for mayoral candidates as the local government election draws closer.

One candidate has famously called for people sleeping rough to be moved out of the CBD, "forcibly" if necessary.

But Ms Brown says the people at the heart of the issue have not been getting a say.

None of the people in her camp will be able to vote in the election, according to a local homeless advocate, despite being at the centre of many debates.

"We're at the bottom of the food chain when you look at it," she said.

"If they noticed or wanted to help, it would've been done a long time ago.

"We wouldn't be in this now."

The City of Perth commissioners endorsed an interim homelessness plan in mid-2019, and put $140,000 into a Moore Street site to facilitate access to homelessness services.

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But many of the people living under the bridge are on the priority waiting list for public housing, and until they get a roof over their heads, have become a visible symbol of a growing issue in the city.

Camp offers rare slice of security

The area under the Lord Street bridge is owned by the Public Transport Authority, which fenced it off after saying it was becoming a safety risk due to antisocial behaviour.

But for Ms Brown, the area has offered a rare slice of security.

She said she knew people who had been attacked or sexually assaulted on the streets.

A report released by the Department of Communities in 2018 said almost 52 per cent of people experiencing homelessness in WA had been the victim of an attack since becoming homeless.

"Now that I'm here under this bridge and there's other people around I feel safe," Ms Brown said.

"But other than that, no."

Safety in the spotlight

Over in Northbridge, safety on the streets has been firmly in the spotlight in recent months, following assaults on police officers and the death of nightclub manager Giuseppe Raco in July.

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Natthiya Deighton has owned a clothing shop on William Street for more than 14 years, and said shoplifting and violence had been getting progressively worse.

[Chart: shoplifting rising]

Her husband quit his job to help fend off trouble.

"I didn't feel safe here on my own," Mrs Deighton said.

"I've been abused, people have thrown a coat rack on me and pushed me over."

While she used to keep the shop open late on Friday and Saturday nights, Mrs Deighton said it was no longer worth it.

"Too many drunk people, it's not good anymore," she said.

[Chart: Assault]

"If you're doing things like drinking coffee or shopping, [Northbridge] is okay.

"But I think the dangerous thing is if you come out at night, the nightclubs … I don't feel safe because we're the shop owners."

Push for stronger penalties for stealing

Mrs Deighton and her husband have a folder of last year's shoplifters. They say it contains almost 300 entries, a quarter of which they reported to police.

This year theft and violent attacks are down in the shop, which the pair credit to more frequent police reporting and a "wall of shame" peppered with photos of alleged shoplifters.

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But Mrs Deighton says she still does not feel safe.

"Every day we come to work and we're not sure what's going to happen in store," she said.

Mrs Deighton said she wanted to see mayoral candidates advocate for stronger stealing penalties, cleaning up after drug users and more police patrols.

Over the summer, the State Government put $5 million funding into extra police hours and patrols across the state, including in the city.

Operation Heat Shield ended in May, and a report from the City of Perth found crime and antisocial behaviour had increased since the initiative ended.

The city's chair commissioner wrote to the State Government requesting Heat Shield continue, saying it was crucial for businesses in the wake of COVID-19, but there has been no further boost yet, with budget allocations to be determined by Cabinet "in due course".

Bad times come and go

Pool and snooker centre owner Paul McLean has watched Northbridge go through a lot of ups and downs over the last 30 years.

"It's fluctuated over the years, where the bad times come and go in Northbridge," he said.

"Usually there's a couple of instances and the media will get on to it, then there'll be a police blitz, then it dies down again."

The doors of Mr McLean's centre stay open until around 2:00am, but he said he finds the Northbridge streets largely safe apart from particular antisocial groups.

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"If some of the anti-social people come in … you don't know what's going to happen really," he said.

"Generally in Northbridge you come in, you go to a restaurant, the sun's shining, the trees are blossoming and it's no problem. It's just those few times."

Mr McLean wanted to see mayoral candidates push for ongoing action, rather than temporary blitzes to fix street issues.

"I think there needs to be a long term plan and a permanent unit, whether it's the council [or] the police that deals with it," he said.

"Not big surges of action followed by no action at all."

'We're not recognised'

Business owners and workers the ABC spoke to around Northbridge wanted to see more festivals to bring families in and more lighting.

Some thought pedestrianising James Street on the weekends could help ease pressure on bustling footpaths and stop possible fights, but others said their experience of closures in the past had resulted in darker, more unsafe streets.

For people sleeping rough in the city, Ms Brown said the idea of temporary shelters was a start, but like policing the problem went beyond a council's powers.

"That'll be the first step I suppose, getting us underneath shelter, better shelter," Ms Brown said.

"The main thing is we still need our own personal space, our own security — something we can call our own."

Some mayoral candidates have visited the Lord Street camp.

One of the men camping there, Neville Riley, said he wanted to see more listening to people sleeping rough.

"We're not recognised, we're just looked at," he said.

"Everyone else has a locked door with a key, we've got a tent and a zip.

"Change has got to happen, and it's got to happen now."

All seven mayoral candidates are set to present their strategies to ease Perth's growing homelessness issue on Tuesday at a Shelter WA and WA Alliance to End Homelessness forum.

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