“We’re the bits of dirt shuffled out of sight under the carpet”...

“We’re the bits of dirt shuffled out of sight under the carpet” – homeless couple’s desperate struggle

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Damon Blaxall, Samantha Chapman and their dog Sonic.

Everywhere you turn, there’s another mention of a crisis.

And in true Aussie spirit, we’ve made quick work of desensitising ourselves to the multitude of social injustices around us.

In November, the Macquarie Dictionary even dubbed ‘Cozzie Livs’ – a light-hearted diminutive of the very serious ‘cost-of-living’ crisis – its word of the year.

When struggle becomes normalised, it’s easy to put your blinkers on.

But then you meet someone like Damon Blaxall, who instantly puts everything into perspective, and you understand why they’re calling it a ‘housing crisis’.

Damon, his partner, Samantha Chapman, and their dog, Sonic, are currently camping in bushland within the City of Gosnells.

They’re both as Gozzie as you can get – born and raised, and with a strong love for the area and its people.

Gosnells will always be home. But it’s becoming harder and harder to stay.

Damon has been homeless and applying for two or three rentals a day for two years – ever since his landlords in Waroona decided to sell his rental when the last lockdown lifted.

“Waroona is a two-street town, so there weren’t a lot of rental opportunities. I thought the suburbs would be a little friendlier, so I moved home to Gosnells,” he said.

The cheapest two-bedroom rental in Gosnells this week is going for $520 per week.

That’s pretty much all of Damon’s disability pension.

With Sam’s pension, the pair could just about scrape through with bills, food and necessities.

“I don’t want to stay on the pension, but finding a job when you’re homeless and don’t have transport is hard. And to find a home, you need the money. it’s a Catch-22,” he said.

“But it’s not even about the money anymore, housing is just non-existent.”

He regularly attends open house inspections alongside 70 other desperate home seekers.

“Sometimes it even ends up in a bidding war – people will write on the application form that they’re willing to pay more,” he said.

“The problem is, when you put your references on a rental form and there’s been a two-year gap and no explanation of what you’ve been doing or where you’ve been living in that time, it makes it near impossible.”

And they’re not limiting their search to Gosnells either – they’ve tried applying for properties as far away as Northam.

They’ve both been on the priority list for community housing for years, but as of July 31 last year, there were 33,943 people on the social housing waitlist, and 9,447 individuals on the priority list.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show WA has the highest proportion of people of any state living in improvised dwellings, tents, or sleeping out.

Every share house the pair have enquired about would not accept pets.

They’ve also tried their luck with caravan parks, People Who Care, the Salvation Army, Wesley Mission and a handful of other outreach programs.

“They’re all inundated,” Damon said.

He’s tried to make appointments with the mayor and local members of parliament: “But trying to get through to anyone with any sort of say so is hard”.

He wonders how a multi-million-dollar quarantine facility can just sit empty in Bullsbrook when there are so many people needing a roof over their head. The McGowan Government ruled out using the Centre for National Resilience to ease the housing crisis on the basis the facility is too far from the CBD.

So, unless a miracle happens, Sam and Damon will continue to “camp”.

They both try to keep upbeat about their situation, but it’s becoming harder as the days march on.

“I guess the hardest thing is loneliness – there’s a constant feeling that we’re being excluded from life, that we’re the bits of dirt shuffled out of sight under the carpet,” Damon said.

“I’m generally a pretty positive person – I don’t mind living like this. But it is hard sometimes,” Sam said.

They have a deal with a local lady who brings them food regularly, but without a fridge the pair are spending $500 a fortnight just on food.

Another person brings them fresh water and ice daily for a fee and someone dropped off a kiddy pool so they could bathe.

They have a hand-held fan that they can plug into an inverter to run on the 40-degree days.

And Damon keeps his sanity by watching movies he runs off a small projector.

“It’s just camping – that’s the way I’ve got to spin it,” he said.

“But obviously I’m devastated that I can’t sit with Sam in the safety of my own house.

“Someone has to stay at camp at all times, because we had everything of value stolen about seven months ago, then our camp was torched.”

In spite of this, they count themselves lucky to have been able to stay in the same spot for the past eight months – they’ve managed to find a sweet spot where they’re not likely to be moved on by the authorities.

The community around them has been friendly – “People say G’day and toot their horn, people check in that we have enough dog food, and we woke up one morning and found $20 left under a piece of wood for us”.

“So, we’ve got it a lot better than a lot of other homeless people,” he said, recounting the time he helped an 84-year-old gentleman who was sleeping on concrete.

Damon and Sam bought him a sleeping bag, let him kip with them for a few months, then helped him make contact with the Salvation Army who managed to find him a place at Amaroo Village.

“Wake up Australia! There are elders sleeping on the cold, hard street,” he said.

Damon said that man is one of hundreds living rough on the streets of Gosnells.

He estimates up to 300 people each week attend the Real Life Church’s services for access to food, showers, and washing machines.

“That’s where you see the real extent of homelessness here in Gosnells – a lot of people have become dejected and come to believe there’s nothing they can do,” he said.

“I would like people to realise that not everyone chooses this – we haven’t done anything wrong.

“Walking over the top of people and looking down at us like society’s rubbish doesn’t help anyone.

“The whole thing about being homeless is we’ve got nowhere to go, and unfortunately, we’re going to step on someone’s toes.

“Maybe stopping and listening to someone’s story could change a life, open hearts.”