FORMER Fremantle citizen of the year Marie Thorne has been evicted by Homeswest and faces spending the remaining years of her life on the streets.
The department says the eviction follows 25 complaints—from different people—being laid against the 78-year-old Noongar elder’s tenancy in the past three years. General manager Greg Cash says the final straw was an incident in November that resulted in a man being injured in a hit-and-run incident and two women charged with brawling.
Ms Thorne, who suffers diabetes, was given till yesterday (Friday February 13) to vacate the Hilton home she’s lived in for 28 years or face being evicted via a court order. Just a year ago she’d received a Homeswest-sponsored NAIDOC award for the hundreds of hours she’s volunteered helping get others off the streets and into public housing.
Neighbours acknowledge Ms Thorne’s standing in the community and her gentle persona, but complain that visitors who drink heavily and cause trouble have made their own lives unbearable.
Ms Thorne vehemently denies there’s been any trouble at her house, claiming it’s a case of mistaken identity.
For example, she insists the hit-run incident was nothing to do with her. While two police cars did attend her house she says she re-directed them up the road to where the altercation took place.
“I never allow any drinking in my home, or any fighting,” she told the Herald, tears welling in her eyes. “They’re trying to kill me.”
A swag of politicians who’ve worked with Ms Thorne over the years have come out in support, writing to Homeswest urging it to manage the situation differently.
They include mayor Brad Pettitt, Labor MPs Simone McGurk, Peter Tinley, Melissa Parke, Senator Sue Lines and former WA attorney-general Jim McGinty.
Dr Pettitt is outraged by Homeswest’s handling of the case, telling one staffer within earshot of the Herald the department would look very poor once people knew what it was doing.
“They need to relocate Marie, perhaps to somewhere small closer in to Fremantle—and she’s indicated she’d accept that—and then they need to help manage the situation,” he says.
Ms McGurk is similarly outraged: “They are looking at evicting a former citizen of the year, a NAIDOC award recipient, someone who’s a respected elder and has contributed so much to this community,” she says. “What they expect to achieve out of evicting her, I don’t know.”
Ms McGurk says she’s tried to get a hearing with new housing minister Colin Holt (the portfolio’s been a revolving door for years) but he didn’t seem keen to intervene.
Mr Cash says the department’s made repeated attempts to help Ms Thorne resolve issues surrounding her visitors, but to no avail.
“The department recognises and acknowledges the contribution that Ms Thorne has made to the Aboriginal community but this does not negate her responsibility to ensure that she appropriately manages her tenancy,” Mr Cash told the Herald. “Members of the community advocating on behalf of Ms Thorne have not come forward with any guaranteed solutions to the ongoing problems of disruptive behaviour and the continuing threat to the peace and safety of neighbours.”
by STEVE GRANT