Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan has claimed homeless people are being lured to a tent city with “attractive ham” lunches by “professional protesters”.
Mr McGowan levelled the bizarre accusation yesterday, saying “anarchists” and members of Extinction Rebellion had been exploiting vulnerable people, encouraging them to sleep in tent cities in Fremantle’s Pioneer Park.
Another tent city has also emerged in Perth’s CBD.
The Premier said many of these people already had access to government services, but had been lured away by fancy lunches.
“They’re organising lunches there with ham off the bone and quite attractive food in order to attract people there,” Mr McGowan said.
Homelessness organisations Freo Street Kitchen and House the Homeless WA announced they’d begin giving out free meals in Pioneer Park during the holiday period. Since then, more than 100 people have begun living in tents in the area.
The groups have been asking for donations of cash and food online, however are not registered on the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.
The park, now filled with tents, sits opposite the office of Labor Fremantle MP Simone McGurk.
Mr McGowan said Ms McGurk was working to house the people taking shelter at the park, but was being hampered as more people were arriving at the tent city.
“There are professional protesters organising people to go to that camp,” Mr McGowan said.
“Many of those people already have accommodation. They have services available and the professional protesters that organise it are often people from organisations like Extinction Rebellion. Basically anarchists.
“We are investing more than ever before into new social housing – $1 billion. Homelessness services – $100 million a year. And new builds of housing which is going strong in living memory.
“But you know people are out there deliberately organising some of these people to go there to the site as a protest.
“And what these people are doing is taking advantage of vulnerable people. They’re using vulnerable people for a purpose,” Mr McGowan said.
“I just urge all people to access the services. And often these people have mental health, drug addiction, alcohol addictions.
“I just urge them, use the services available. We have spare beds currently. Some of those services are actually in Fremantle and we’re expanding those services as we speak. So we do our best and we are doing our best and I just urge the organisers to stop exploiting vulnerable people.”
Jesse Noakes, an advocate who has been soliciting donations for the homeless, also worked as a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion.
Mr Noakes told news.com.au in a lengthy statement he was no longer a member of the activist group.
“My role is as a spokesperson and co-ordinator for House the Homeless WA. This campaign has been running for some time and exists to provide a platform for advocates, experts and community leaders to discuss WA’s public housing and homelessness crisis, and to support people living homeless who wish to share their stories to connect with the public via the media and assist them to co-ordinate advocacy to generate political pressure,” Mr Noakes said.
He said the campaign was launched in September last year along with “Dr Betsy Buchanan, a legendary West Australian housing advocate”. He said he himself has eight years experience in housing advocacy and also works as a freelance journalist.
“The campaign has been involved in extensive media coverage of housing and homelessness, particularly as it affects Aboriginal people,” he said. “The campaign also supports people experiencing homelessness and housing issues, based on close relationships formed over years and often decades with the people and families affected.”
Mr Noakes claimed an open letter sent to the Premier in December over what he called the “homelessness crisis in WA” received no response.
“A subsequent letter from key signatories requesting an urgent meeting with the Premier and Treasurer to discuss the letter was referred to the Minister for Community Services and the Minister for Homelessness,” Mr Noakes said.
“A letter from the Fremantle camp last week referenced these letters and has likewise received no response.”