THE sudden death of a woman living homeless at CY O’Connor Beach on Sunday morning has deeply affected her community and highlighted their vulnerability during the Covid pandemic, says an acquaintance.
The 42-year-old woman had been sleeping in the sand dunes with her best friend for security, but he woke to find she had not survived the night and despite an ambulance rushing to the scene she could not be revived.
Her circle of friends say Rachael seemed healthy just days earlier, and they don’t believe drugs or alcohol played a part in her death.
“She wasn’t your stereotypical average person who’s lived homeless for ages and gone down that rabbit hole – to me she looked almost like she shouldn’t be homeless,” said a friend who the Herald has agreed not to identify.
She said Rachael found herself on the streets about six months ago after fleeing a violent relationship.
“She was a really quiet, sweet-natured person – not a bad bone in her body,” she said, adding Rachael had recently borrowed some money from a friend as a bond for the lodging house at 100 Hampton Road and was due to move in within days.
“Everyone was shocked. “After it there was a spontaneous sort of gathering and I could tell everyone was feeling really loving towards each other and it brings it home, at that moment, that it can be any one of us.”
Her friend has a nursing qualification and lists off a ream of life-threatening conditions that are exacerbated or created by living homeless; some she’s experienced herself.
“Stress is unhealthy for you and it weakens your immune system.
“People live in a state of dehydration; all the time you have got to tether your life to some form of public toilets, especially women.
“And you’re prey to all the diseases that come with chronic dehydration; urinary problems, kidney stones, the blood is thicker and your blood volume is less so you’re more prone to clots and strokes.
“You cardiovascular system accommodates when you’re in a constant state of dehydration by shrinking down to keep the pressure right; you get kidney problems and your blood is thicker so your heart works harder.”
The woman fears the Covid pandemic could be devastating to Perth’s homeless community, with a graph from Homeless Healthcare showing 32 per cent are yet to get their first vaccination and only 7 per cent have had a booster.
“Especially in the Aboriginal community; I guess the government have gone into the regions and done a campaign up there, but here people living homeless have had sort of a minimalist thing.”
She said while St Pat’s offers a vaccination clinic, it’s not permanently available and it can be difficult for people to access when they’re living in the elements.
She says a mobile van or a daily clinic at St Pat’s for breakfast might make it easier for people to access vaccinations.
“Because I keep asking people ‘you’re going to get your jabs?’,” she said.
“They say ‘yeah, I’ve got to do it’; ‘yeah I’ve had one’; ‘yeah, I haven’t got it yet – I’m gonna do it’.
“But I think ‘yeah, all of us can say that, but we haven’t got a lovely house where we can go ‘I’m going to go out and lock the door, I’m going to make an appointment on my phone’.
“A lot of people that are homeless don’t have a phone,” she said, adding that others put them in hock shops to get them by until their next payment comes through.”
She fears that having to share their limited resources and
the lack of access to hygiene means that if one person in the homeless community catches the highly infectious Omicron strain, it “will go like a wildfire through everybody”.