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Increase in homeless despite government measures

06 May 2020

Increase in homeless despite government measures Image

By Meg Hill

Despite almost unprecedented expansion of Australia’s welfare system there has been an influx of those in need of homelessness support, according to the Salvation Army.

Major Brendan Nottle told Southbank News last month the increase in demand was even greater than what the Salvation Army had expected.

“The influx played out almost exactly as we expected it, but I think the demand has actually outweighed what we expected there,” he said.

“We knew there would be an increase but not to this extent. Before the crisis we serviced around 25 to 30 people a day in emergency relief support with food parcels, now it’s 90 to 95 a day.”

“Life was pretty certain for a lot of people and when this crisis hit I think their lives became uncertain a lot of ways – will they have a job in the short term and long term, will the company they work for still be standing, how are they going to pay for medication, food and rent. A lot of this started before the JobKeeper payment was announced but there are still lots of people, we’re seeing who aren’t sure if they’re eligible.”

One demographic rendered uniquely vulnerable has been international students, who like other groups have lost employment but remain ineligible for unemployment benefits even with the now expanded safety net.

Further, many international students can’t return home due to border restrictions.

Queues at a Southbank foodbank run by the Planetshakers Pentecostal church stretched 200 metres in April, and was largely composed of international students, according to The Age.

The charity’s weekly intake has skyrocketed from 200 people a week to more than 1300.

The Victorian Government announced on April 29 that international students would receive a relief payment of up to $1100 as part of a $45 million International Student Emergency Relief Fund (read more on this page, page 8).

In March the Salvation Army overhauled its local operations to deal with an impending catastrophe for the homeless. Australia has so far dodged many of those disastrous health care projections, but Major Nottle has warned to stay diligent.

“I think we should pay kudos to governments both state and federal for the action they’ve taken, but the reality is we haven’t entered the flu season and the people the Salvation Army works with are high-risk,” Major Nottle said.

“Diligence is really critical now. It’s easy to say the numbers are really small compared to what we thought, and I’m not a medical professional but I’m not convinced we’re through it yet.”

The Salvation Army centre on Bourke St had significantly restructured and expanded its café services and was deemed an essential service but soon received direction from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that operations would have to be even more significantly altered.

The night café was forced to shut just when it was supporting around 150 to 180 people a night who had nowhere to go. Major Nottle said people were sleeping on the floor.

“We’ve worked with that cohort, and with people sleeping around the city, and we’ve got 203 people off the streets and into short-term accommodation,” Major Nottle said.

“It’s a really good short-term measure but it’s certainly not a solution to homelessness, and many of them are in hotels that don’t supply meals, cooking or heating facilities.”

Major Nottle said a solution had been found utilising the kitchen at Parliament House and donations of tonnes of food produce from places like Crown which were forced to shut for the lockdown.

“The kitchen at Parliament House is pumping out around 4000 meals a day to a range of charities and we’re distributing a lot into hotels where people are staying for emergency accommodation,” Brendan said.

On April 10, the state government announced it would repurpose aged-care sites to provide self-isolation facilities for the homeless.

Minister for Housing Richard Wynne announced $8.8 million for four pop-up facilities that would provide healthcare and support accommodation for more than 200 rough sleepers over the next six months.

The accommodation will be located at four sites in inner Melbourne and will be operated by Anglicare Victoria, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Launch Housing, Sacred Heart Mission and VincentCare Victoria.

“People without secure accommodation are at greater risk of contracting coronavirus because they can’t self-isolate or quarantine – this will help keep them safe and slow the spread of the virus,” Minister Wynne said.

The state government also announced $3 million for women experiencing, or at risk of, family violence on April 17.

On April 29, the City of Melbourne announced that it was providing $200,000 in grants for organisations that supported vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People City portfolio chair Cr Beverley Pinder called for applications for projects to help residents and communities that had been affected by COVID-19 maintain good mental health and quality of life, in spite of the challenging times.

“We know that COVID-19 has created real hardship in many communities, but particularly so for people who already face disadvantage,” Cr Pinder said. 

Applications are now open at melbourne.smartygrants.com.au •

 

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