opinion

Editor’s Desk: Moving day shows me just how lucky I am amid homelessness and rental crisis

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Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
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Fremantle’s “tent city” sprung up earlier this year.
Camera IconFremantle’s “tent city” sprung up earlier this year. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

I swore it wouldn’t happen again for a very long time — putting myself through the torture of moving house again.

Getting a tooth pulled, listening to death metal on a constant loop, or willingly entering into a debate with an online troll — all these painful activities would be preferable to getting out the packing boxes, bubble wrap and masking tape for another round. Yet somehow I find myself in the middle of my fourth move in three years.

But as I pack up my life, it’s with a strong, sobering realisation front of mind (besides my borderline hoarding tendencies) — of how fortunate I am.

There are people living in this city without a home. No roof over their head or their family’s. Sleeping in their car, on a bench, in a caravan or tent. At least dozens of people — men, women, children, families. And the toll is rising week by week.

In a way, I am moving because of Geraldton’s housing crunch. The place I am renting was put on the market, and the new owners want to move in. I knew I could kiss a lease extension goodbye, and finding a similar abode in a market that is tighter than trying to parallel park a stretch limo in between a Hummer and a Dodge Ram.

So the cold harsh rental reality was the push I needed to take the plunge and buy a slice of my own Geraldton real estate. I am lucky to be able to afford that option.

Amanda Melrose with daughter Indiah, 11, Lennelle Papertalk and Geraldton mayor Shane Van Styn at last week’s homelessness forum.
Camera IconAmanda Melrose with daughter Indiah, 11, Lennelle Papertalk and Geraldton mayor Shane Van Styn at last week’s homelessness forum. Credit: Liam Beatty

Many others aren’t in that position. They can’t afford to buy, they have to rent. But the rental rug is being pulled from under their feet. The fall is hard, and it hurts. Good tenants, bad tenants and people in between are caught up in the fallout. Anyone with a compassionate bone in their body would feel for the plight of all — because no matter who people are, or what they’ve done, they deserve the basic necessity of shelter.

It’s not just the stereotype of a homeless person who is desperate for help — it could be a single mum working two jobs, a family down on their luck, a good tenant who just can’t compete in such a red-hot rental market.

At a homelessness forum in Geraldton last week, heartbreaking stories were laid bare, and I hope the ears and hearts of the politicians present were open.

Options such as setting up modular homes, repurposing empty accommodation like the Geraldton Camp School and fixing up the dozens of dilapidated, boarded-up public housing properties in Geraldton were all talked about.

The boarded-up homes have been a subject talked about for long enough.

The people of Geraldton need our leaders to be advocates and catalysts for change, not guardians of the status quo. Everyone — including our vulnerable, at-risk residents — should have a home, and that’s the point of the safety net that is supposed to be our public housing system.

It is a system buckling under the pressure, with waiting lists growing longer and longer by the month.

We can’t let this fester for too much longer. We can’t lose our sense of compassion either, and be a city on-edge where makeshift camps spring up and divide locals like we’ve seen elsewhere.

If a measure of a society is how they treat their vulnerable, then to stack up we have to stop talking about action and start acting — for everyone’s sake.

And while I resume my dreaded packing, I’ll remember how lucky I am.

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