Squatting in vacant homes causes issues
A rise in cases of squatting in the Pilbara and its associated safety risks has provoked concern from local authorities and residents.
Long-term Karratha resident Ian Withnell was shocked to arrive back from several months’ holiday in February to find his locked Nickol home had been broken into, trashed and “left wide open” for people to come and go.
Piles of rubbish in rooms, discarded syringes and the disappearance of personal items ranging from television sets to cutlery indicated people had been staying at the property for some time.
“When I went in the house, I basically cried,” he said.
“You go away and there’s a nice, basically ordinary neat little house, and you come back and it’s just trashed.”
Pilbara District police Superintendent Paul Coombes said police had been seeing a noticeable increase in squatting in the Pilbara in the past six months.
“We have been notified of incidents of squatting, and there’s a whole pile of social issues which are causing that as well,” he said, listing homelessness, alcoholism and drug use as some.
Supt Coombes said most cases involved people staying in vacant public housing, but some private houses had also been targeted.
Housing Authority general manager of service delivery Greg Cash said the agency was monitoring squatting and vandalism cases in vacant Pilbara public housing.
He said as well as facing legal action, there were numerous safety risks associated with squatting.
“Squatters may endanger themselves by lighting fires and using candles in vacant properties without connection to power,” he said.
“A property awaiting refurbishment or demolition may offer other hazards due to existing damage.”
Mr Withnell said the homes of several Karratha friends had been targeted by squatters as well, and noted weeks later the experience still played on his mind.
“If I got all-new gear in my house and then had to go away again, you’re thinking, well, is it going to happen again,” he said.
Anyone with information about squatters is asked to call police.