Blot on the streetscape

Mattresses in the Hemmings Street squat house's back yard. 242858_01

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Squat houses seem to be the unsolveable eyesores of proud neighbourhoods.

In Cheltenham Road, a large vacated commercial premises has been reportedly trashed by a squatter.

A nearby business owner tells Star Journal that the man is “terrorising” the neighbourhood despite being arrested by police.

“I am sure the police are just as frustrated as the business owners, staff and general public who encounter him on a daily basis.”

On a regular basis, he steals food from a local store. At times, he threateningly waves a syringe as he helps himself.

Sometimes, while in a drug haze, he carries a cricket bat while he stumbles the streets or approaches school students.

Meanwhile, a long-abandoned house stands fragile behind a temporary security fence on Hemmings Street.

It has the tell-tale signs of neglect: broken windows, ajar doors and strewn garbage, including a tyres, mattresses and a bike and a whipper-snipper perched in trees.

Residents say they complain loud and often to City of Greater Dandenong, to no avail.

A neighbour tells Star Journal that squatters were kicked out, and the house boarded up two years ago.

“There was a skip here and they tidied it up.”

In the meantime, the place had been ransacked, he said.

“It’s been like that for years”.

A Greater Dandenong Council spokesperson said the council had tried unsuccessfully to contact the Hemmings Street site’s owner several times.

“The issues of squatters is a civil matter between the owner and the trespassers, and owners can engage the service of the police to assist them to evict the squatters.

“There is currently no Council policy to manage these sites.”

Most squat houses arise where owners wait for planning permits, finance or house sales to go through.

Or otherwise if it’s a deceased estate or the owners are off overseas for an extended period.

The council has powers to order the owner to conduct “safe works” if the property is deemed dangerous due to fire damage or if it’s structurally unsound.

The sites are ultimately demolished and the land left vacant, the council spokesperson says.

Homelessness agency WAYSS chief executive Liz Thomas says squats are an issue that “stirs emotions in the community”.

“It is important to understand that solving the issue is not as simple as just kicking people out.

“The reality is much more complex than that and our approach should be underpinned by empathy – no one chooses to be homeless.”

Ms Thomas says the council, police and service providers needed to come up with “sustainable” and “innovative” solutions.

“With so few housing options in our local area for people on very low incomes, throwing them back out onto the street isn’t a solution.”