Opinion: Squatting is an issue in Mandurah, but how can we fix it?

Roof over the head: Mandurah police have been reacting to complaints that homeless people are squatting in derelict properties. Photo: Mandurah police.

Roof over the head: Mandurah police have been reacting to complaints that homeless people are squatting in derelict properties. Photo: Mandurah police.

Driving through certain streets in Mandurah, it is hard to avoid the glaring blight of rundown properties.

In winter, many of these derelict, vacant homes, become a place where homeless people seek shelter from the cold and wet weather.

If I became homeless and couldn't find a place to sleep, I would absolutely do anything to avoid sleeping in a public place.

I understand trespassing on a vacant unused property is breaking the law. But if the owner of the home has let the house become unlivable, I don't see how they have a leg to stand on if someone trespasses on their property.

Last week, I spoke with neighbours of a well-known central squat house. One neighbour said they steered clear of the residents but saw and heard people stopping by at all hours of the day and night.

"I think they sell drugs," he told me.

Another resident said she believes anti-social behaviour had got worse in Mandurah. "The street is busy all hours of the night, people coming and going," she said.

Local homeless man Bondy told me he had never squatted, and people who did would "even turn on him" because many were drug addicts.

In June, I reported two homeless people were fined for squatting at two vacant homes.

Josephine Teresa Miles, 46, pleaded guilty to trespassing on a Mandurah property and told police she needed somewhere to sleep.

She apologised to the magistrate and said she had been cold, before being fined $600 and ordered to pay the property owner $50 for damaging a lattice.

It would be tough to afford to pay that kind of fine if you were already struggling to get by.

I wonder if a fine acts as a deterrent or just exacerbates the homeless person's problems, causing them to commit more offences. I certainly don't think it would solve the issue of squatting.

I was pleased to hear an investment property owner had made their house accessible to homeless people during winter for a small fee.

Mandurah Detective Senior Sergeant Trevor Troy said the owner came to an agreement with a group of local residents.

"Rather than having them squat and do damage, they have reached an agreement on smaller groups living on the premise for a minimal fee," he said.

Senior Sergeant Troy said he had seen a number of inquiries and investigations into squatting over the past several years.

"We are aware there is a number of vacant properties through central Mandurah and the older parts of town where we have had to act and take action," he said.

I believe there could be more transitional housing in Mandurah and the Peel region for men and women.

Over upcoming weeks the Mandurah Mail will look into the issue of local homelessness in more detail.