An Irish welfare group in Perth says it has “delving to do” following reports Irish nationals are queuing for food at a Northbridge soup kitchen.
Manna Inc, which serves 200 meals a night six nights a week from a soup kitchen at Weld Park, is seeing more backpackers joining their queues.
Bev Lowe, 72, co-founded the voluntary organisation with her husband John in 1996.
She said Manna serves three-course meals and the occasional treat – “food that sticks to your ribs” – from 5pm each night.
“There are a few Irish, I must admit,” said Ms Lowe, when asked who queues with the homeless each night.
“Well, when I’m on the street and I see them, I say ‘This meal is for homeless people, it’s obvious you’re not homeless, will you please step out of my line?’ And if they say no, I say to them, ‘You really don’t want me to embarrass you, do you? Step out. Now if I have meals at the end of the night, you’re welcome. But we feed the homeless first’. I think that’s a reasonable thing to say,” she said.
Ms Lowe said she can see that some backpackers experience problems, but it is important to her the Manna meals are served to the people they intend to feed.
“I do understand there are people who arrive in this country on the promise of a job or expecting to get a job and it fades away. And then they’re left high, dry and handsome.”
One Manna volunteer told the Irish Echo there were many backpackers coming into the park, and said their nationalities varied.
“Sometimes we do tell them ‘Look, this is for somebody who needs it’ and they say ‘We really need it’,” she said. “This happens every day and they stay in the queue. We don’t have a way of dealing with them.”
Joan Ross, of the Claddagh Association, said the organisation had just recently learned about the issue.
She said there was about 120 people at the soup kitchen when she and a fellow committee member visited Weld Park to talk to Manna volunteers last week.
“We asked did they often get Irish and they said last year there was an awful lot of young Irish people that queued up all the time for food. And this year, there’s not as many. It never came to our attention last year, but this year it has,” she said.
“I think we’ve a lot more delving to do into it, to see exactly what’s happening,” she said.
Ms Ross said many of the hostels in the area had inadequate kitchens to cater for backpackers.
A recent report by the City of Vincent – of which Irish-Australian Alannah MacTiernan is mayor – found that many hostels had poor conditions.
Ms MacTiernan told the West Australian newspaper in October last year that the problem was growing.
“It’s a real problem because the rents are so high and there is such a housing shortage that a lot of people – particularly migrants and visa holders – have to accept these appalling conditions,” she said.
Elsewhere, Rev Bill Crews of the Exodus Foundation in Sydney, which operates a food van in The Domain, says it faces similar issues to Manna.
“We estimate that about less than four per cent of the meals we give out are to backpackers,” he said.
“Often we’re really careful, we’ll say things like, ‘Look, mate, if you’re hungry and you’re a backpacker, get to the end of the queue and if there’s any left over, you can have it’.”