Housing crisis leaves Indigenous Australians in ‘third world conditions’

It’s claimed the current model is piece-meal and inefficient with Indigenous Australians overrepresented in homelessness and over-crowding.

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One family in Cummeragunja southern New South Wales is now living in a condemned residence, claiming they have no alternative.

For more than a year sisters Thelma and Shirly Nicholson have lived in Cummeragunga near Echuca on the Victoria New South Wales border.

Along with their much-loved dogs they share a de-commissioned home which is listed for demolition.

Officially their occupation of the home is illegal as they’re technically squatting, they told SBS.

The local Lands Council has asked them to move but they said they have nowhere to go if they leave.

“You can’t get rid of me, this is my God given land here”, said Thelma Nicholson. “This is my mother’s country, belong here like everyone else that’s Yorta Yorta.”

The condemned home has no power or running water but 50-year-old Thelma syphons water from the nearby River Murray for their needs.

“We make sure we really, really, really flush our toilet so it doesn’t back up and we back drinking maggots again.”

Her sister Shirley suffers from Lupus, a condition causing fatigue swollen joints and skin lesions and the 48-year-old says she’s been hospitalised through poor sanitation.

“Spent a week in hospital because I didn’t realise we were drinking maggoty water for over seven months,” said Shirley.

As with many Aboriginal communities across regional New South Wales there’s a waiting list for accommodation here at Cummeragunga.

For de-commissioned properties like the Nicholson’s home the plan is to refurbish, or demolish and re-build. But funding is a problem, said Geraldine Atkinson from the Cumeragunja Aboriginal Lands Council.

“The process is so slow. A matter of 12 months we’ve been waiting to get upgrades on the houses that are there,” she said.

Aboriginal people comprise 28 per cent of homeless Australians, but three per cent of the overall population.

They’re also three times more likely to live in overcrowded accommodation.

Kirstie Parker the co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said there needs to be a community controlled oversight body to consider the relevant issues.

“We don’t have anything that’s quite comprehensive that looks at all of the issues that ensures where there’s overlap that that’s corrected and that we make the most efficient use of resources,” she said.

Darren Smith from Aboriginal Housing Victoria said the distribution of federal funding is disproportionate and this exacerbates the housing problem.

“Putting resources into remote communities and stepping away from their responsibilities to Aboriginal people in urban and regional communities,” he said.

Shirley Nicholson said there was gap between the public’s perception of Indigenous housing and the harsh reality she and her sister faced.

“They’d be shocked – they think we live like millionaires down here – they think we [are] flash blacks – we not flash. I wish we were,” she said.

 

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