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  • 'A selfless man who lost hope': Makeshift community farewells a friend
  • By Marta Pascual Juanola
  • 09/06/2019 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Rosco ( 1 article in 2019 )
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A homeless community is mourning the man who had become the "face" of their situation, their friend and tireless advocate.

Lawrence Lewis, 'Laurie', took his own life on Tuesday last week after a lifelong battle with mental health.

The camp in bushland surrounding the Rockingham industrial precinct.

The 56-year-old had been living in a shanty town in the industrial precinct of Rockingham, on Perth city's southern fringe, for several months.

The camp, near a nickel refinery and a chemical wholesaler, is home to 17 men and women living in tents and shacks with no access to power or hot water.

Described as a 'selfless man who lost hope' by those who knew him, Laurie became the face of the Rockingham camp after working with local government and other support agencies to address homelessness in the region.

A single father of two, he had been struggling with mental health issues for years and experiencing homelessness intermittently.

In recent months he had been sleeping in a large tent equipped with a bed, chairs and a small kitchen he had set up himself.

He had even managed to use a small generator to have a steady power supply.

Following the news of his passing, tributes for Mr Lewis flowed.

"The last few days have been a struggle; sadly Dad has taken his own life," his son Jordan Lewis wrote on social media.

"Times were hard and I know it’s just too easy for anyone to get into a situation like he was, my heart feels heavy and I’m lost for words.

"Please if anyone is struggling out there, just speak up."

The news comes a month after the City of Rockingham knocked back a proposal to build a homeless shelter in the suburb of Shoalwater.

If approved, the project would have meant a $790,000 upgrade for the existing Penola House, a former lodging home for The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, to accommodate 31 men.

City of Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels said he was sad to find out about Laurie's passing.

"Even if Penola House was approved by council, number one it wouldn't have been ready in time that would have changed the outcome of that particular issue, and secondly the people that would've gone to that facility if it was approved would have been scrutinised before they go in there," he said.

"But it is a sad story at the end of the day."

Mr Sammels said the City was addressing homelessness and mental health issues through the Rockingham/Kwinana Homelessness Interagency Group, a joint venture between the two councils and local support service providers.

"We've got services available to help people," he said.

"But in some cases they've got to ask for that help and we will do whatever we need to assist them.

"My understanding as far as the City of Rockingham is concerned we haven't made contact with [Laurie]."

Premier and Member for Rockingham Mark McGowan acknowledged there was a homelessness problem across the state and that "there's always more that could be done".

He said the Department of Communities was working with WA Police and local support services to transition the camp's residents into social housing and link them to suitable support services.

"Staff will continue to support residents to obtain alternative accommodation options based on individual need," he said.

“Staff also reached out following the tragic death of Mr Lewis to check on the welfare of the residents and offer any necessary support."

Mr McGowan confirmed Landcorp wouldn't enforce the move-on noticed issued to the camp's residents and called on the City of Rockingham to find an alternative location for a shelter.

"There is no easy fix for homelessness," he said.

"It is a complex issue and people experiencing homelessness are often contending with a number of issues such as mental illness, family and domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse issues.

“I was saddened to learn of the death of Mr Lewis; It was a tragic event, and my heart goes out to those who knew him."

Shelter WA chief executive Michelle Mackenzie said there was a clear link between inadequate housing and mental illness.

"People with mental health issues cannot get well if they do not have a place to call home or access to the services they need," she said.

"With a waitlist of more than 14,000 people for social housing, a lack of affordable private rentals and homelessness services unable to meet current needs, investment is needed now in social and affordable housing and homelessness services before another person dies.

"As a community we need to act now before anything like this happens again."

Not in our backyard: Rockingham council knocks back homeless shelter (24/4/19)


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