Eviction from public housing leaves mother and son homeless in ‘heartless’ trend in Northern Territories

In the dark of night, on a damp March evening, Cherylene Campbell opened the rickety front door of her dream home to security guards and received a callback.

She was due in Housing Court the next morning to defend herself against numerous allegations of anti-social behavior.

Within minutes, Ms Campbell and her then 14-year-old son had two weeks to leave and find a new home in a pocket of Australia where people remain on a waiting list for public accommodation until a decade.

“We tried to get a place in Darwin, so Taylen could stay in school. We tried all the hostels but they were all full. Then, at the last minute, we took what we could and went. went to Katherine,” Ms Campbell said.

“We just took clothes, my phone and my chair. That’s all we could take.

The Northern Territory government did not respond to questions from the ABC about the whereabouts of Ms Campbell’s assets.

Ten years of waiting for home

Behind a high chain-link fence in a northern suburb of Darwin, the yellow walls of the dilapidated government-owned house were beginning to peel. But for Ms. Campbell and her two teenage sons, the house was a dream come true.

They had waited 10 years for the disabled-accessible three-bedroom house, moving between crisis accommodation centers, public houses and hostels.

“We finally felt like we could get our lives back on track. We wouldn’t be homeless, but I think I bewitched myself.”

Over the course of a tumultuous few months – from September 2021 to March 2022 – while residing in the home, Ms Campbell said she lost both her sister and her unborn baby, suffered a miscarriage diaper at six months.

She said she was in the middle of an argument with her ex-partner and was still getting used to using a wheelchair after her leg was amputated.

To make matters worse, a neighbor was filing a series of complaints with the NT Government’s Families and Housing Department and the police showed up on her doorstep.

Cherylene Campbell and Taylen, 15, worry about sleeping rough if they don’t find affordable housing soon.(ABC KatherineRoxanne Fitzgerald)

“She complained about late night TV, or boys playing video games… she said I brought a lot of attention to my house, she complained about my visitors, my family and my friends. friends who came to help me clean the house or fix the garden because I can’t,” she said.

“We couldn’t even barbecue without her complaining.

‘Heartless and compassionate’ evictions on the rise

Phil Andrews, a lawyer at the Darwin Community Legal Service who defended Ms Campbell, said evictions of council housing tenants were on the rise in the Northern Territory, despite a critical shortage of affordable housing and some of the lowest homelessness rates. higher in Australia. .

In the four years between 2018 and 2021, only one social housing tenant was evicted, a Northern Territory government spokeswoman has confirmed.

But since January of this year, there have been eight evictions.

“We are currently facing three or four such cases on very similar grounds,” Mr Andrews said.

“One is a guy with seven kids who keeps complaining about the noise because the kids are watching cartoons,

A red-haired young man with a beard and sunglasses hanging from his neck has a steely and serious look.
Phil Andrews says pushing people into homelessness is not the answer to anti-social behavior.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

“If someone from [public] a housing comes to us who has been evicted for antisocial behavior, we are looking into the matter because there are a lot of systemic issues involved. »

Mr Andrews said his clients often felt victimized and discriminated against by housing staff, and questioned what appeared to be a recent change in government policy to crack down on neighborhood disturbances.

“There’s the common trope… [that] it is impossible to evict a tenant from a dwelling. So I think [the government is] trying to show everyone, ‘No, we’re serious about anti-social behavior’.”

A spokeswoman for the territory’s Department of Families and Housing said: ‘The government requires every tenant to have a transition plan for leaving the public housing system. This transition plan will include alternative accommodation.’

Government pays private lawyers to reduce eviction time

Ms Campbell said arguments often broke out with visiting family members after she told them they could not stay at her house.

And two requests for mediation were rejected by his neighbor.

Ms Campbell said the first eviction letter arrived in March as she attended her sister’s funeral.

A claim had been made by officials of the Territory’s Families and Housing Department and, at a hearing which she did not attend, the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal gave her and his son, 60 days to be absent.

But then, following new allegations of anti-social behavior, the government notified a private law firm of the case to have the 60-day period reduced to two weeks.

In the Northern Territory there is a 60 day notice period for the end of all tenancies.

Ms Campbell was able to attend the second hearing, but at the time she had no legal representation and said she felt helpless.

“I was alone in court…I had no support to relate my situation. I was nervous. I felt like ‘I’m alone here’.”

Kate Worden sits at her desk in the Northern Territory.
Territorial Families and Urban Habitat Minister Kate Worden says the government has “tightened up” the visitor policy.(ABC News)

Kate Worden, Minister for Territorial Families and Urban Housing, said the government had ‘tightened up’ its visiting policy and increased its focus on pre-letting to ‘ensure new tenants have the skills and knowledge necessary to be good social housing tenants”.

“The vast majority of public housing tenants are good tenants, but there is a small proportion, along with their visitors, who are disruptive,” Ms Worden said.

“A range of tools are used to respond to complaints about anti-social behavior in public accommodation rentals, including red card, visitor management and acceptable behavior agreement policies. These policies ensure that tenants can be held accountable for their actions through NTCAT, who are the decision makers to terminate a lease, not the government.”

Deport to homelessness

Ms. Campbell is the first to admit that she has a checkered history and a traumatic past.

When she moved into Malak social housing, she was bound by an acceptable behavior agreement for six months following 51 allegations of anti-social behavior at a previous residence.

But Mr Andrews said eviction, at a time when affordable housing was scarce, was not the solution.

“You have someone who uses a wheelchair, who’s had a huge amount of trauma in their life…and say, well, because you’ve had people and they were drinking and arguing, so you deserve the ‘homelessness,'” he said.

“These are persistent problems due to the lack of safe housing … and [evictions are] just going to push the issue to the next house where that person might have friends or family.”

For the next two years, Mrs. Campbell and her son are barred from applying for public housing from the government, but they are hoping for a wheelchair-accessible residence at St. Vincent de Paul Society‘s Bernard Street housing. will be available soon.

Since their eviction a few weeks ago, they have stayed in four different places and are currently sleeping on a family member’s sofa.

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