From WA government worker to state housing: even this ex-rough sleeper lived like a king – The Age

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Wandana Flats resident David Basell, 53, knows only too well the plight of looking for shelter on Perths bitter cold nights, which has led unidentified rough sleepers to resort to sleeping in the flats waste bins despite them being known to attract rats and cockroaches.

The Department of Housing and Communities wrote to residents to say that the metal bins would be replaced by the Subiaco council with 10 plastic 660-litre bins over complaints about the skip bins odours.

Wandana Flats metal waste bins used by rough sleepers in desperation to stay warm on Perths coldest nights.Credit:Aja Styles

However, the move comes after reports of multiple fires being lit in the bins over winter and other indications rough sleepers had found refuge in the protection of the sizeable metal containers.

It is a repeat of what occurred in 2015, post WAs mining boom, when the states two-speed economy also led to a significant rise in homelessness.

The other week I reported a lot of rubbish had been thrown out of the bins at the front here. It looked like it had been gone through as if the crows had got to it but it would have had to have been a big crow, chortled Mr Basell.

The flat has been a welcome two-year reprieve from the hardship Mr Basell experienced for a third of his life, even though his fifth floor apartment had bed bugs, which led to a rare flesh-eating infection necrotizing fasciitis in his leg.

He jokingly named his left leg Freddy as in Freddy Krueger, but his failing health due to alcoholism and a further golden staph infection resulted in him being revived from the dead six times by Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital staff in 2019.

As we sat in the Wandana Flats gardens during a bright spring morning after months of rain, Mr Basell told me I had caught him on a good day after spending a week locked in his apartment sobering up.

The withdrawals are like getting a flu, Mr Basell tells me, and its a constant battle not to pick up cheap Strawberry Spumante from his local bottle shop, which sits very close to the Subiaco government housing complex.

His life as a shy computer nerd took a sharp turn for the worse over workplace bullying while working IT at the Department of Premier and Cabinet under former premier Peter Dowding in the 1990s.

Mr Basell said he was hugely unpopular with staff one woman in particular after being tasked to ping anyone who shared large files on email because the department was monitoring the misuse of staff emails for pornography, share trading or gambling.

Even though he caught people having office affairs and often sharing porn, it never went much further than a note on their file in the department, and they all knew who to blame.

The [department] didnt want the matter to be sensationalised or the government to be made an example, he said.

Eventually when I snapped I looked like the one who was bad. I had to sedate myself with drugs and alcohol just to start the day and end the day.

Meet Freddy (Krueger): Mr Basells leg after a flesh-eating infection caused by bed bugs.Credit:Aja Styles

He ended up in the mail room until finally in 2005, he was forced to take a redundancy that spiralled into homeless on account of his alcoholism the darkest moment of which he was found painting walls with his own faeces.

But Mr Basell lights up when he speaks of his days spent squatting at a Como mansion and at a house in Highgate surrounded by antiques. One antique that went missing was a China set that pre-dated WWI and worth up to $5000, he was later told by its owner.

It was the only time he lived like a king, he told me.

I had a friend I called the Squat Master and he knew of all these places, and you would go wandering at night and scout places over their backyards, he said.

If youre lucky you could stay a month or two. If you dont bring anyone back you can have it for years theyre abandoned for a long time but that was my problem, I was too trusting.

He says hes been charged for trespass three times.

The first time he was convicted, the magistrate sentenced him to no court costs or fines, and it suggested to him that squatting didnt cost much as it was at the discretion of the judge.

Mr Basell said he would rather be a squatter or homeless than live at emergency accommodation.

They look nice from the outside but very questionable on the inside, he said darkly.

He said that was the problem many homeless healthcare services faced when trying to place people like him, since those on the street knew what looked good on paper wasnt the reality because no one really complains.

Perths homelessness has increased 58 per cent over six months to April this year, according to those keeping track of rough sleepers by name.

Zero Project keeps a record of individuals engaged by community services around Perth in a move designed to improve collaboration between providers.


Its list went up from 628 homeless people in November to 995 in April, with the Australia Bureau of Statistics yet to deliver its latest census figures on homelessness.

And rough sleepers are increasingly spied in Perths inner suburbs as they spill out from the city and Northbridge entertainment precincts, where they are having to be stepped over at almost every corner.

It has left restaurants and cafes lamenting the damage to their businesses as the state government and local councils struggle to find an immediate solution beyond replacing Wandanas metal waste bins with less fire-retardant plastic bins.

And you know what happens when you set fire to plastic, said Mr Basell, with a final chuckle as he went back to enjoying his luck at poking through an evicted tenants remaining treasures left abandoned by department contractors.

Continued here:
From WA government worker to state housing: even this ex-rough sleeper lived like a king - The Age

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