96yo Mandurah man goes to extremes to understand homelessness

Not many people go out of their way to "walk in someone else's shoes".

Especially not when that means sleeping on the street, begging for food and perhaps not even wearing shoes.

But for one Mandurah couple, the drive to understand why people are homeless was so strong that they did exactly that.

"We wanted to actually understand why people want to be homeless," Reg Lambert says.

The 96-year-old and his late wife, Bet lived on the streets for four years by choice, in four different cities - Tamworth, Brisbane, Darwinand finishing up in Mandurah.

She was 78 at the time and he was 80 when they set out - sleeping on verandahs, in sheds and under bushes.

"We cancelled our pension, we went out onto the street with enough money for one meal and we begged," Mr Lambert said.

"We walked out four years later in the same clothes."

We walked out four years later in the same clothes.

Reg Lambert

They have now spent 30 years visiting people on the streets of Mandurah, many of whom he believes are there because of a health issue.

"Often, something has gone wrong and they have dropped into depression."

Most of the time it has been a relationship breakdown, and sadly he knew of many people who had committed suicide.

"Just yesterday I heard of another suspected suicide on the streets of Mandurah," he told the Mandurah Mail during a catch up on Thursday at his favourite local hangout - Groundswell Cafe.

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"People make that choice when they feel unloved and uncared for."

He says Mandurah will never be free of street people because "some will always choose to live there".

"Some will still choose to stay on the street. They are a community."

Some will still choose to stay on the street. They are a community.

Reg Lambert

But he says the situation on the streets of Mandurah is far worse than it was a couple of decades ago and he is continuing to try to find a solution for those who don't want to be living there.

At the grand age of 96 he still heads out about three days a week to share a coffee and offer support.

"When I'm incapable of going out, I'll stop," he said.

"But I don't go to a doctor and I don't take any medication so it could be a while."

But that's not all that he does in his pursuit of helping the homeless.

The near-centenarian has released a new book, A Hand Up not a Hand Out and has recently submitted a proposal to the City of Mandurah for a plan to manage crisis accommodation in Mandurah - drawing on his years of experience.

His vision is for 10 private accommodation units for males and 10 for females with medical and jobs support onsite.

A City spokesperson said they were in discussions with Mr Lambert.

Reg Lambert's new book, A Hand Up not a Hand Out.

Reg Lambert's new book, A Hand Up not a Hand Out.

Mr Lambert also founded non-profit volunteer group Peel Connect, which conducts night patrols helping people sleeping rough on local streets by providing care packages.

Mr Lambert says there are those from the "best backgrounds" who still find themselves sleeping on Mandurah's eastern foreshore and in Mewburn Gardens, where he does much of his work.

"I have met former members of parliament, pastors of churches and managing directors," he says.

I have met former members of parliament, pastors of churches and managing directors.

Reg Lambert

"Not all who are on the street feel like they are third class citizens by any means.

"Some are there because they feel this is the only safe place - perhaps due to violence in their home."

And it's a changing scene, there are more young people now.

"I've been in touch with 10, all of them under the age of 20," he says.

"They are people who have run away from home or had a blue at school."

He said most people on the streets of Mandurah were receiving some sort of welfare payment.

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Mr Lambert is a mechanical and electrical engineer by trade and a former Christian pastor. Now he is a member of no church in Mandurah but attends eight.

"I am not pastoring a church, I am pastoring people," he says.

"I am going to keep doing what I can because this is a beautiful city and it demands our attention.

"I see a good deal more needs to be done. There is some stirring of action at the moment, but I wonder how far that will go."

Department of Employment labour force figures show the jobless rate in Mandurah was a staggering 18 per cent last month compared to a still high 6.9 per cent in February.