Death on street exposes plight of homeless

By Billy Adams

Man forgotten in life destined to be remembered for the way he died

Social activists hope the death of Mouse will prompt a renewed push to provide better support for the homeless. Photo / Getty Images
Social activists hope the death of Mouse will prompt a renewed push to provide better support for the homeless. Photo / Getty Images

Found in a pool of his own blood under a railway bridge, the homeless man nicknamed Mouse seemed destined to be as quickly forgotten in death as he was in life.

Instead, this week Wayne Perry appeared everywhere from newspaper front pages to mobile phones belonging to people who snapped macabre "selfies" at the scene of his alleged murder.

The location alone, a makeshift camp in Melbourne just across the Yarra River from James Packer's Crown Casino, captured a contrast all too evident in many big cities.

That contrast only came into sharper focus when police charged the alleged killer - a graduate of the same exclusive private school that produced three Australian Prime Ministers and Dame Edna Everage.

Timing also proved vital in the 42-year-old's belated rise to public attention. Three days before he was stabbed, Mouse described his daily plight to the Age newspaper.

"You have to sleep with one eye open," he said, "because you don't know who's going to bash you or stab you or rob you."

Rather than the planned feature on homelessness, the chillingly prophetic observation made it into the paper's account of the alleged murder.

Mouse and his alleged attacker, 19-year-old Easton Woodhead, were described by those who knew them as "very popular".

But their vastly different backgrounds stood out more than any comparisons. When Mouse was 14 his mother abandoned him and ran off with a local gangland figure, paving the way for a volatile life dominated by addiction and no fixed abode.

Woodhead spent his formative years attending Melbourne Grammar, a A$27,000 ($29,140)-a-year school that prides itself on grooming future leaders.

A keen rower, he graduated in 2012 with the world at his feet, but on Tuesday, dressed in a blue police-issue jumpsuit, he appeared before a magistrate accused of murder.

His lawyer's depiction of a troubled young man who had been using cannabis echoed concerns of friends who told reporters that drugs had changed his behaviour in recent months.

Social activists such as the Salvation Army's Brendan Nottle hope the death will prompt a renewed push to provide better support for the homeless.

Photos of Mouse, sitting on the mattress where he was found dead, have put a tragic human face on an issue that typically generates most publicity when politicians and chief executives spend a night outdoors for charity.

Nottle says the "forgotten people", estimated to number more than 100,000 in Australia, need more than a roof over their head. "I've never met anyone who is just homeless," says Nottle. "There are always complex issues around mental health, addiction and unresolved trauma.

"In Australia there are significant numbers of people living not just on the streets but also in terrible rooming houses because there is no other option. Young people in particular are couch surfing each night, and in a country such as ours that is a disgrace."

The news of Mouse's death hit the Sallies commander hard. The pair first met in 1987 when Nottle was running a youth refuge and Mouse was a teenage tearaway. Last year Mouse turned up again, but rejected offers of accommodation.

Yesterday Nottle held a funeral service at the Salvation Army's CBD temple which was attended by family members, including Mouse's three children and a 1-year-old grandson he didn't know he had.

Nottle, named 2013 Melburnian of the Year for his tireless work helping the disadvantaged, described Mouse as incredibly generous, but dogged by problems with drugs and alcohol.

He says that like many homeless people, his friend had addictions that were "self-medication" for long-standing emotional problems.

There was also intermittent trouble with police. "The reality of life on the streets is sometimes you need to resort to crime to survive and that was certainly the case for Mouse."

On Monday afternoon, the day after the alleged attack and long after the police crime scene tape had been removed, Mouse's belongings and the pool of blood remained.

Nottle watched passersby take selfies. Someone put up a sign saying "5 Cents a Stare".

"I saw it as ghoulish behaviour," Nottle says. "I wondered if people were getting caught up in the excitement of wanting to share the fact they were at the site of an alleged murder.

"But maybe they hadn't taken time to reflect on the fact that even though this was a homeless person who'd lost their life, it was still a human being."

- NZ Herald

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