Teen Wins Locker Battle for Bunbury Homeless
2 March 2019 at 12:00 pm
A 13-year-old girl has become an unlikely hero for the homeless after winning a two-year battle with the city council in Bunbury, Western Australia to install lockers for rough-sleepers to store their possessions.
The idea first came to Bella Burgemeister when she tagged along with a local artist taking photos for an exhibition on the homeless experience.
When she talked to people experiencing homelessness, the issue of not having a safe place to store their possessions came up time and time again. So she decided to do something about it.
“I went to the council and asked if they would help me put some lockers in and they told me I had to come back with research,” Burgemeister told Pro Bono News.
She contacted organisations in America, Portugal, Hobart and Sydney which already had the lockers installed, and brought the research back to the council.
“I took all the research and data to the council and then about a year later the council approved 24 lockers with the funding of $30,000,” she said.
Burgemeister also raised $3,000 in four hours via a Facebook campaign, where the public could adopt a locker for $100, with their name engraved on it.
“A year later, they are finally in, so we have 18 lockers in two locations,” she said.
The lockers can be booked via the council for long-term use, otherwise a first-come, first-served rule applies for short-term rent.
Jonathan Shapiera, founder of South West Australian Homeless People and a Bunbury local, told Pro Bono News while he wasn’t directly involved in the campaign, the lockers would have been a lifeline when he lived out of his car for two years with his son.
Following a series of unfortunate life events and losing a job contract, Shapiera fell into homelessness.
“We had no choice but to get into the car,” Shapiera said.
“We had to take our stuff out of the car so there was room to sleep, but I didn’t really sleep because I was worried my stuff would get stolen.”
There were also instances where his few items were thrown out by council workers.
“I had to put my sleeping bag on some rails in a carpark we were staying at to air it out, and when I came back it was gone. I asked around, and one of the council workers had thrown it out,” he said.
He said it would have made a big difference if they were available when he was sleeping rough.
“The impact of losing an item like a blanket on your mental health when you’re homeless is overwhelming. It’s hard enough becoming, or being homeless. It would have made life so much easier to know that when it got cold, you could go to a locker and pull out a blanket,” he said.
Burgemeister said the lockers have been well received by the people using them.
“We have lots of good friends who we talk to when walking through the CBD, and I know they are feeling very proud right now,” she said.
“It was their idea so they know that it was something that they did.”
Shapiera said he had met with Burgemeister to discuss how to progress the idea, and was confident it would be picked up by other local councils, and become a nationwide program before too long.
“This idea is really a no brainer, but it’s taken the likes of Bunbury Council to go ahead with it, and the tenacity of this young lady to really push and get it done,” he said.
“It will go Australia-wide believe me.”