On Saturday afternoon HBF Park, Perth’s inner city sports stadium, was quieter than normal.
Normally thousands of people would be milling outside getting ready to cheer on Perth Glory. This weekend the crowd was smaller – by one of the locked entrances, a few people sitting around on chairs or in tents with one guy asleep on a mattress, still damp from last night’s rain.
While the rest of us stayed inside, this was their home for the past week – up to a dozen people living in a space maybe 12 metres square.
One of them was Noelene. She was discharged from Royal Perth Hospital late last week after being tested for coronavirus. She presented with flu-like symptoms, and a history of emphysema, heart issues and a blood clot on her brain. After 48 hours on a locked ward, the test came back negative and she was back on the streets.
“I’m scared,” she said, still coughing. “We’re all scared. We’ve got nowhere to go.”
As an Aboriginal woman over 50, Noelene is one of those Scott Morrison yesterday “strongly advised” to stay home, acknowledging their heightened vulnerability due to the gap in health outcomes, as part of an edict banning public gatherings of more than two people.
I work with homeless Aboriginal people in the city. As I heard the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday afternoon I could see about 20 people, including Noelene, sitting together outside the front door of my office. I walked out and gave them the latest update. They laughed, looking around them.
“Not much chance for self-isolating here,” Noelene said. Social distancing? “Zero.”
Without internet access, or often even a phone, face to face is the only option for social contact. With limited access to media, people know the virus is coming but not how to limit exposure.
Homeless people are the silent frontline of this pandemic. As we all retreat from our city streets, they are left out there, alone.
Noelene didn’t have coronavirus while staying in hospital, but she knows what another night on the street means: “I might have it now.”
What did she need? One word. “Accommodation.”
Written by Jesse Noakes April 2020