POLICE are investigating a New Year’s Eve rape on Arthur Head which was initially linked to the homeless ‘tent city’ on Pioneer Park.
At present around 100 people are sleeping out in the park opposite the Fremantle train station, with numbers swelling since the first tents were pitched on Boxing Day.
Police searched the camp on New Year’s Day, although the Herald understands they were unable to locate a suspect and left. Since then they have been asking businesses on Arthur Head for CCTV vision from around 11.30pm on New Year’s Eve and Fremantle council has installed a mobile CCTV tower outside the J-Sheds.
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said it was disturbing to hear about.
“The expert advice that the City of Fremantle has received is that the longer the camp goes on, the greater the risk to its residents, including women,” Dr Pettitt said.
“That’s one key reason we want to get people housed ASAP.”
Perth’s version of tent city was affected by escalating rates of sexual assault and violence, with residents telling the Herald’s sister paper the Perth Voice people were fighting with sticks, stones and bottles (“Someone’s gonna die there real soon,” Voice, October 30, 2019).
Despite the seriousness of the alleged crime, businesses near Pioneer Park said so far there had been little to worry about from the park, with only one shop owner reporting several shoplifting attempts.
Others said there was a bit of noise and it was definitely a talking point amongst visitors, but there was a strong element of sympathy even amongst those who thought the park should be removed.
The park grew around Freo Street Kitchen, a grassroots community group which came together to provide food, water, sanitation and a safe space while other service providers were shut.
It has relied on crowd funding, contributions and volunteer labour to provide a 24-hour breakfast, lunch and dinner service.
In a recent release the organisers said they had “no intention” of moving on.
The camp is directly across the road from communities minister Simone McGurk’s office and passed by dozens of staff heading to the new Department of Communities’ building in Kings Square every day, a point not lost on resident Emma Bailey.
“Ultimately I hope that being so visible gives the people in charge of housing a bit more personal insight into the situation,” Ms Bailey said.
“This will be my third Christmas on the street; the previous two were nothing short of horrendous,” she said just as the camp was being established.
“This one I had a bit more hope for … being able to come down here and spend this period in a better environment has been really good.”
Communities met with the council and service providers on Monday, and Ms McGurk’s office said they’re developing a plan to support the campers and understand their needs.
The spokesperson said they were looking at alternative accommodation options, but didn’t elaborate.
Dr Pettitt was similarly in the dark about potential locations, although he says he’s been told some are outside Fremantle “which is OK given people are from a range of areas”.
“Ideally I’m hoping the data gather that the agencies are doing this week will lead to matching up people with beds in a range of places,” Dr Pettitt said.
“Some may also just need assistance getting back to their home towns in the regions.”
The mayor said the major stakeholders were due to meet again yesterday (Friday January 8) to discuss the next step.
But Freo Street Kitchen spokesperson Sam Wayne said the existing system was broken and it needed a community approach to ending the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
“We’ve got a role to play rather than just shoving people back into the broken system,” Ms Wayne said.
“You have to get in and help – you have to peer-support the whole way through.”
St Pat’s, which has traditionally dominated homeless services in Fremantle, warned that the camp approach was risky for its residents and urged people to support specialist services instead.
Campers “may unintentionally be diverted away from engaging with the specialist services”, CEO Michael Piu said.
But campers had a different perspective: “With respect, St Pat’s has limited resources and can only help a percentage of the homeless, and I imagine that percentage is modest,” one woman said.
by STEVE GRANT and KELLY WARDEN