Mandurah's young homeless people speak up about life on the streets

“Some of us if we can’t find somewhere to go you think I’d rather just die,” young Mandurah mother Jamilla Rowles said. 

The 22-year-old has been living in the streets on and off with her partner Anthony Ruutz, 20, for at least five years, relying on local organisations to have a shower, wash their clothes and get a feed.

On any given day, while people are sitting at home by the heater, the couple are trying to figure out where they are going to sleep that night.

If they’re lucky, they sleep on a friend’s couch.

If they're not, the streets are their only option, sleeping only a few minutes at a time to stay alert. 

“Half the time we don’t even get to go to a friend’s house, we sleep on the street, we don’t eat,” Mr Ruutz said.

“On cold nights people are at home lovely with the heater, and it’s cold outside,” Ms Rowles said.

They are both in their early twenties but they have slept under bridges, at shopping centres, under small roofs and in the bush. 

They said homelessness is rough. They only get $400 a week from Centrelink, an amount that barely covers the cost of rent.

Mr Ruutz said he is also struggling to find a job, making it difficult for them to save up enough money to pay for a cash bond.

“How do we eat? How do we pay the bills?,” Ms Rowles said.

“People that do rent out houses they believe that income is not strong enough to maintain the property.”

“Every day we go through the struggle of getting a house when no one wants to give you a chance,” Mr Ruutz added.

“We just want a second chance.”

The couple is currently working with local homeless resource centre Passages to get back on their feet.

Moving forward: Mandurah's Jamilla Rowles and Anthony Ruutz painting one of the banners for Homelessness Awareness Week at Passages Mandurah. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.

Moving forward: Mandurah's Jamilla Rowles and Anthony Ruutz painting one of the banners for Homelessness Awareness Week at Passages Mandurah. Photo: Marta Pascual Juanola.

The organisation on Davey Street provides medical advice, legal and financial assistance, and substance abuse and mental health support to people at risk of becoming homeless.

It also has laundry and kitchen facilities available, and manages several transitional accommodation sites.

“It’s a home away from home,” Ms Rowles said.

“You’re struggling but this place just gives you a bit of hope.”

“They have helped us with accommodation, food, counselling, advice, parenting skills, DCP, Centrelink,” Mr Ruutz said.

”We are moving forwards, not backwards.”

Racing to raise awareness 

Mr Ruutz and Ms Rowles are two of 1346 people aged between 19 and 24 living in the streets of Western Australia, 14 per cent of the state’s homeless population, according to data by Homelessness Australia.

With Homelessness Awareness Day only a few weeks away, Passages is organising a special couch-surfing race event in a bid to raise awareness about youth homelessness in the Peel region.

Different service providers have decorated and customised their own couch on wheels and will be competing against each other in a timed race at the foreshore on August 3. 

The event hopes to put youth homelessness in the spotlight and highlight the fact that not all homeless people sleep rough.

“I think it’s a good way to get people to realise that there are youth that need accommodation and support,” Mr Ruutz who participated in decorating the couches said. 

“The acknowledgement that we are here and we are struggling,” Ms Rowles said.

“We’ve got four children and we are struggling, and we are homeless.”

The race will be part of this year’s Homeless Awareness Day event, which will gather representatives from 39 organisations and bring free clothing, food and live entertainment to Mandurah. 

The event will be held at the Mandurah foreshore between 9am and 2pm on August 3 and is open to everybody.

For more information about Passages call 9583 5160 or send an email to passages.peel@svdpwa.org.au