Meet the 77-year-old who has taken in homeless people to live in her home EIGHT times

Rachel FennerSound Telegraph
Myrtle Jones has become a personal saviour to many.
Camera IconMyrtle Jones has become a personal saviour to many. Credit: Rachel Fenner

Would you take in a homeless person and set them up in your spare room? Not many would say yes, but Myrtle Jones isn’t just anyone.

As revealed in last week’s Sound Telegraph, Rockingham is facing record numbers of homelessness.

A list compiled by a group called Advance to Zero estimates that homelessness in the area grew from 37 people in February 2021 to 188 in February this year.

This sharp increase in numbers is raising alarm bells, but many in the homeless population feel that they are falling on deaf ears.

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Mrs Jones is one woman who is hearing them loud and clear.

The 77-year-old is indefatigable in her efforts to care for the homeless.

Mrs Jones dedicated her life to caring for others as a palliative care nurse but couldn’t stop caring for others post-retirement.

Eight years ago she began volunteering to help the homeless in Rockingham and is a familiar and caring face for those living on the streets.

Mrs Jones estimates that she’s taken in people to live with her on eight occasions — from a woman she saw on the side of the road who had run away from a violent husband and a 12-year-old runaway to a family of three.

Mrs Jones met the family while volunteering with a local Rockingham group that supplies food, hampers and clothing to the homeless.

“The three of them had lunch on a Monday,” she said.

“I looked at (the daughter) and said ‘sweetheart why aren’t you in school?’. And she said ‘I don’t go to school’. And I went ‘Why not?’. She said ‘Because the kids, they ask me where I live and I don’t live anywhere’.”

Mrs Jones said it broke her heart, so she took the family in for 18 months. During this time, the family got out of debt and got a rental reference.

Sarah Bull, 31, and Chris Camarda, 32, are the latest couple to find themselves the beneficiaries of Mrs Jones’ kindness.

The couple had been living in a tent for two years and on the list for public housing for most of that time.

Ms Bull said there were times the couple would sleep all day “just to get rid of the hunger”.

“People walk past and say the homeless make things filthy and it’s how the community see the homeless, they just turn their nose up and it’s hurtful, it’s disgusting,” she said.

Ms Bull and Mr Camarda recently began volunteering with The Crew to give back and to give them something meaningful to do.

When Mrs Jones found out Ms Bull was pregnant, she decided to take the couple in.

Going from unhoused to housed hasn’t been without challenges though.

The first night sleeping at the house, out of habit, Ms Bull went outside to use the toilet.

“There’s been ups and downs; we’re just getting used to being in a house again,” she said.

“When we get settled we aim to give back as much as we can because we know what it’s like. We’ve been in the thick of it and even though we were better off than a lot of people, we how bad it can be and how hard it can be.

“It’s just unfortunate that a lot of the community do not think along those lines. That they’re ignorant to it.

“They don’t want to know about it because it doesn’t affect them. Or it’s an issue the Government don’t want to face.”

“I don’t care that you’re sleeping in the gutter,” Mrs Jones added.

Myrtle offered a lifeline to Sarah Bell, left, and Chris Camarda, centre.
Camera IconMyrtle offered a lifeline to Sarah Bell, left, and Chris Camarda, centre. Credit: Rachel Fenner

“I’m not judging you for sleeping in the gutter. I’m here to help you out of the gutter.”

Mrs Jones said many people had warned her not to take in strangers, but she said nothing bad has happened as a result.

“What are they going to do, steal my blankets?” she laughed.

Mrs Jones wishes the Government and volunteer groups would engage more with homeless populations to see what they need.

Mrs Jones pointed to food hampers as an example.

“I’m not knocking them, but the people who put them together don’t stop and think about peoples’ needs,” she said.

“They’ll give pasta. Pasta! How are they going to cook pasta? Unless they have a little burner, but that takes too long; give rice, you can get it boiling, put the lid on and turn it off.

“This is what should go into a homeless pack: baked beans and spaghetti with a ring pull, fruit with a ring pull, bacon and eggs, bread and I always try to put chocolate.”

When Ms Bull was asked about drug use on the streets, she admitted the temptation was there: “Because you get to the point where it’s like ‘wow, I’m homeless. I’m hitting rock bottom. Like, why not?’.”

“A lot of people end up on drugs, it’s because they’re cold, they’re hungry.”

Mrs Jones also laments the loss of caravan parks that would often provide low-cost accommodation to people without a rental reference.

Unfortunately, Mrs Jones is getting older and is on a deadline to sell her house which has become too big to care for since her husband died.

She hopes that someone will offer Ms Bull and Mr Camarda a home before their baby is born in June.

When asked what could be done with $10 million, Mrs Jones didn’t hesitate.

“We’re building low-cost, small houses and we’re offering training so we can stop bringing people from overseas,” she said.

“I’m not being biased but we need to look after Australians.”

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