96yo Reg Lambert goes to extremes to understand homelessness

Not many people go the whole distance to "walk in someone else's shoes".

Especially not when that means sleeping on the street, begging for food and perhaps not even wearing shoes.

But for one Western Australian couple, the drive to understand why people are homeless was so strong that's exactly what they did.

"We wanted to actually understand why people want to be homeless," Reg Lambert said.

The 96-year-old and his late wife, Bet lived on the streets for four years by choice, in four different cities - Tamworth, NSW; Brisbane, Queensland; Darwin, Northern Territory;and finishing up in Mandurah, Western Australia.

She was 78 at the time and he was 80 when they set out - sleeping on verandahs, in sheds and under bushes.

We cancelled our pension, we went out onto the street with enough money for one meal and we begged

Reg Lambert

"We walked out four years later in the same clothes."

They have spent more than three decades visiting people on the streets of Mandurah, many of whom Mr Lambert believes are there because of health issues.

"Often, something has gone wrong and they have dropped into depression."

Most of the time it has been a relationship breakdown, and, sadly, he knows of many people who have committed suicide.

"Just yesterday I heard of another suspected suicide on the streets of Mandurah. People make that choice when they feel unloved and uncared for."

He says Mandurah will never be free of street people because "some will always choose to live there".

"Some will still choose to stay on the street. They are a community."

But he says the situation on the streets of Mandurah is far worse than it was a couple of decades ago and he is continuing to try to find a solution for those who don't want to be living there.

At the grand age of 96 he still heads out about three days a week to share a coffee and offer support.

"When I'm incapable of going out, I'll stop," he said. "But I don't go to a doctor and I don't take any medication so it could be a while."

But that's not all that he does in his pursuit of helping the homeless.

The near-centenarian has released a new book, A Hand Up not a Hand Out and has recently submitted a proposal to the City of Mandurah for a plan to manage crisis accommodation in Mandurah - drawing on his years of experience.

His vision is for 10 private accommodation units for men and another 10 for women with medical and jobs support onsite.

A City spokesperson said they were in discussions with Mr Lambert.

Reg Lambert's new book, A Hand Up not a Hand Out.

Reg Lambert's new book, A Hand Up not a Hand Out.

Mr Lambert also founded non-profit volunteer group Peel Connect, which conducts night patrols helping people sleeping rough on local streets by providing care packages.

Mr Lambert says there are those from the "best backgrounds" who still find themselves sleeping on Mandurah's eastern foreshore and in Mewburn Gardens, where he does much of his work.

"I have met former members of parliament, pastors of churches and managing directors," he says.

"Not all who are on the street feel like they are third class citizens by any means. Some are there because they feel this is the only safe place - perhaps due to violence in their home."

And it's a changing scene, there are more young people now.

"I've been in touch with 10, all of them under the age of 20," he says. They are people who have run away from home or had a blue at school."

Mr Lambert is a mechanical and electrical engineer by trade and a former Christian pastor. Now he is a member of no church in Mandurah but attends eight.

"I am not pastoring a church, I am pastoring people," he says. "I am going to keep doing what I can because this is a beautiful city and it demands our attention.

"I see a good deal more needs to be done. There is some stirring of action at the moment, but I wonder how far that will go."

Department of Employment labour force figures show the jobless rate in Mandurah was a staggering 18 per cent last month compared to a still high 6.9 per cent in February.

This story Meet the 96yo who lived on the streets to better understand homelessness first appeared on Mandurah Mail.