Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

We’ve all walked past someone like Brendon but never looked twice. This is his story

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May31,2024
As the traffic lights turn red on an intersection in Perth’s bustling inner north-east, Brendon Wilhelmi holds up a battered piece of cardboard as he waits for the cars to stop.
“Please help needed! Homeless, two sons and dog. Any advice for accommodation, shelter, or change-food. Thanks God bless,” it reads.
The 34-year-old told SBS News that less than six months ago, his life was unrecognisable from what it is today.
“I used to be up in the morning and off to work (as a roof tiler) and my partner would be getting the kids ready for school. I’d be at work for eight to 10 hours a day,” Wilhelmi said.
“Now, I am asking people for help, which I’ve never had to do before. And it’s really hard.

“Otherwise, what other choices have I got? I’ve never done crime, I don’t break the law. So it either puts me in a position where I have to go steal literally to feed my family, or to hold up a sign.”

A man sits in a park holding up cardboard sign asking for spare change.

Perth father-of-two Brendon Wilhelmi says he’s been left with no choice but to ask for handouts. Source: SBS News / Christopher Tan

Wilhelmi, along with his wife Carmen and their two sons, aged 15 and 12, were last November evicted from their suburban rental property just 12 months into a five-year contract, after their landlord decided to sell.

Within the 60 days’ notice, the family applied for dozens of houses but were constantly knocked back.
“At each of the viewings, there were 30 to 40 people going for the same house as us,” Wilhelmi said.
“[They were] offering more than the above rent asked, as well as rent in advance … so from the start we were already on the back foot.”
Since the eviction, the Perth family in a carport, stayed in a caravan park and are now couch surfing.

‘Every day is a battle’

Their situation has been made worse by Carmen’s health issues.
Months before the eviction, she collapsed while getting the kids to school after experiencing seizures for the first time in her life.

To date, she’s had 15 major seizures, including 12 emergency admissions to hospital.

A woman and man hold onto each other closely in a park

Carmen and Brendon Wilhelmi are desperate to provide a stable home for their two sons. Source: SBS News / Christopher Tan

“They thought it was epilepsy and have been giving her medication for it,” Wilhelmi said.

“[But] recently we found out that it could be something more serious … maybe a brain tumour or something of that nature.

“It is very scary at the moment being homeless. Every day is a battle.”

A man with cardboard sign at a busy intersection as cars go by

The father of two says all he wants is a “normal” life. Source: SBS News / Christopher Tan

Wilhelmi has had to give up his job to care for his wife.

Between food, medical needs and paying rent on , the family’s savings have been very quickly depleted, leaving Wilhelmi begging at traffic lights.

‘The worst it’s ever been’

Rental vacancy rates in Perth have been slowly recovering over the past 12 months but remain drastically low at just 0.9 per cent, according to realestate.com.au.

The Western Australian capital remains one of the most competitive cities for tenants, just behind Adelaide.

An infographic chart showing rental vacancy rates across Australian capital cities

Perth’s rental vacancy rate only improved by 0.1 per cent over the last 12 months. Source: SBS News / realestate.com.au

Anglicare Australia’s Rental Affordability Snapshot, which surveys more than 45,000 rental listings to measure if Australians on low incomes are able to rent a home in the private market, described the affordability crisis as “the worst it’s ever been”.

“[People] will be forced to choose between putting food on the table, staying warm this winter, or keeping a roof over their head,” the report said.
“This is not hyperbole; this is Australia’s new normal.”
Across all of the Australian states and territories, WA was the least affordable when it comes to rental properties for a couple with two children on minimum income, like the Wilhelmis, the report revealed.

“Perth is not a place that does well in rental affordability — for that family in Perth, only 7.3 per cent of the rentals would be affordable to them,” Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers told SBS News.

An infographic chart depicting the affordability of rentals for Australian households on low incomes.

An Anglicare Australia annual report has shown the rental affordability crisis in Australia is the worst it’s ever been. Source: SBS News / Anglicare Australia

For a person on Youth Allowance or Jobseeker, a single parent with two children on a parenting payment, or a single person over 21 on a disability support pension, it’s even tougher.

For those people, even rooms in WA sharehouses priced between $150 and $400 per week were unaffordable.

‘Two paydays away from homelessness’

More than 122,000 people were estimated to be on ABS Census night in 2021, which is one of the highest rates among OECD countries.

In addition, two in five households on low incomes and renting private homes were under rental stress and at risk of homelessness, according to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services handed down earlier this year.

My dream would be to go back to normal living.

Brendon Wilhelmi

Meanwhile, 224,326 households are on the waiting list for social housing, according to Mission Australia.
Chambers says the group seeing the biggest drop in rental affordability is working parents with two children on a minimum wage.
“Having a house is where you do your homework as a kid, where you go to school from, where your health can be looked after. If you don’t have a home, all those foundations just fall down,” she said.

“We are all really living in a house of cards that is only two paydays and one relationship breakdown away from homelessness.”

Time is running out

Ahead of the release of the WA State Budget on 9 May, the state government has already pledged $92.2 million to fund homelessness initiatives, which will help to ensure the continuation of more than 120 services locally.
“This will mean services can bring on more case workers and assertive outreach, expand housing support at drop-in centres and take on additional clients,” Shelter WA chief executive Kath Snell said.
Meanwhile, the federal government has promised $10 billion for 20,000 new social homes and 10,000 new affordable homes over the next five years, including housing to support acute housing needs as part of the .
But housing advocates say this isn’t enough.
Anglicare estimates at least 25,000 new homes are needed every year for the next two decades.

For the Wilhelmis and thousands of others like them, time is running out.

A man writing on a piece of cardboard on the footpath

Brendon Wilhelmi prepares to begin his evening shift of asking for money at the traffic lights. Source: SBS News / Christopher Tan

“I’ve just been put on a government housing list, and they say it could be up to 24 months,” Wilhelmi said.

“The dream scenario would be to be able to move into a house with my kids and my partner, meaning then I could go back to work, and start getting income again.

“My dream would be to go back to normal living … it would be all I ask.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “We’ve all walked past someone like Brendon but never looked twice. This is his story”
  1. How did the landlord justify evicting them so abruptly? Is there any legal recourse for Brendon and his family?

  2. It’s heartbreaking to see stories like Brendon’s. No one should have to go through such hardships, especially when just trying to provide for their family. We need more support systems in place to prevent situations like this from happening. My thoughts are with Brendon and his family during this tough time.

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