Hot and stressed public housing tenants in the Kimberley find their homes so unbearable in the build-up and wet season they are taking refuge in supermarkets, TABs and aged care homes, a new report has found. In one instance a resident, who suffered for years in her hot, run-down property, used an axe to make a hole in the wall for a box air-conditioning unit after the local housing authority refused her repeated requests to have an aperture installed. The report ‘Stuck in the Heat: Lived Experiences of Public Housing Tenants in the Kimberley’ looked at the difficulties residents faced when humidity shot up and temperatures soared to between 38 and 45 degrees during the build up and wet season. The report by the Kimberley Community Legal Service found public housing was unbearably hot because they were of poor quality, were badly maintained and overcrowded. KCLS CEO Christine Robinson said: “The report highlights the urgent need for long-term planning and direct consultation with those who live in the area. Temperatures are predicted to rise under current climate projections, leaving many communities in the Kimberley at risk of being exposed to unliveable conditions.’’ Among the 84 tenants who participated in the study there was a “common sense of struggle and despair” because of the heat, the report read. “They struggle to sleep and eat, they find it hard to manage existing illnesses, and their kids suffer from dehydration and sickness. This can in turn impact performance and attendance at work or school or lead to stress, despair and increased conflict within households.” The report interviewed tenants from Broome, Balgo, Kununurra, Wyndham, Halls Creek and Derby. They described their homes as a ‘heat box’, ‘sweat box’, ‘oven’, ‘incinerator’ or ‘tin box’. Among its seven recommendations the report concluded split-system or ducted air conditioning should be installed in all public housing north of the 26th parallel (Shark Bay). They also said the Government should aim to have all public housing in the Kimberley installed with rooftop power in 18 months to alleviate the huge cost of running air conditioners for public tenants. It was common for tenants to buy second-hand box air-conditioning units for less than $100. “Often box air-conditioners were self-installed by tenants to minimise costs. Faulty or incorrect installation appeared to be a common occurrence, with reports of tenants using pillows, sheets, cardboard, or other materials to fit the air conditioner in the aperture, causing air to escape.” The end result was the air-conditioners had to work harder and cost more to run. It was not uncommon for people to receive a $2000 bill for a two-month period. A hardship officer at Horizon Power said customer power bills could triple during the build-up. The report stated climate change would make intolerably hot houses even worse. It is predicted by 2030 there will be 147 days over 35 degrees in Broome each year, up from the current 81 days while in Kununurra, there will be 253 days over 35 degrees, up from 207 days each year currently. “By 2090, Kununurra is expected to experience 40-degree days for most of the year. Without sufficient shelter, this increase in hot days will be above a survivable human threshold,” the report read. Tenants said they were coping in their hot houses by hosing down the roof, veranda, under the house, or concrete outside. They also put foil on the windows or used sheets for curtains. Some just abandoned their houses all together going to the TAB, supermarket, aged care facilities or other family members’ houses with better air-conditioning. People also reported they slept outside at night.