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'You can't self-isolate on the street'

25 March 2020 at 4:44 pm
Luke Michael
Help is desperately needed for the homeless during COVID-19     

Luke Michael | 25 March 2020 at 4:44 pm


'You can't self-isolate on the street'
25 March 2020 at 4:44 pm

Help is desperately needed for the homeless during COVID-19     

While many Australians are frustrated by the self-isolation measures required during the coronavirus pandemic, spare a thought for those who are homeless.      

For people sleeping rough in particular, going into self-isolation is impossible.

“You can’t self-isolate on the street. You certainly can’t self-isolate without a secure home, at least for the period of self-isolation,” Council to Homeless Persons CEO Jenny Smith said.

“If there was any hand sanitiser you had, you can’t really keep that in your back pocket.”

Smith told Pro Bono News that advocates were pushing for governments to make sure crisis accommodation was available for vulnerable people.

She added that homelessness organisations were grappling to get the balance right between continuing to be there for the most vulnerable in the community, while also keeping staff safe.

“And that’s why it’s terribly important to not only have additional support, but also to find accommodation so people at risk of having the virus can self-isolate successfully,” Smith said.

“People need bathroom and kitchen facilities, and support to get food and health services.”      

A number of cities are already taking this step. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced last weekend that 300 hotel rooms would be available for rough sleepers to self-isolate in over the next three months.

In South Australia, the state government is ensuring motel accommodation is available for rough sleepers, and working to find a facility for rough sleepers who need to self-isolate.

The state government also said it was making sure food was delivered directly to rough sleepers in motel accommodation.

Smith said this was an idea that could be picked up across the country. 

“I think the downturn in the tourism industry, which is absolutely shocking, does create some opportunities for us to identify accommodation,” she said.

“And the federal government should support states to provide that crisis accommodation to people who need to self-isolate.”

Smith noted that rough sleepers were especially vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus because many had underlying chronic health conditions.

 “So it’s terribly important to recognise that not only are people vulnerable because they’re homeless, but also because they have underlying health conditions that are often not well-managed,” she said.

Orange Sky forced to stay grounded during the crisis              

Organisations helping the homeless community are deeply affected by coronavirus.

Orange Sky Laundry – a Brisbane-based charity that offers a free mobile laundry service for the homeless – has been forced to pause its services across Australia for the next three weeks.

Co-founder Nic Marchesi told Pro Bono News the pandemic was hurting some of the most marginalised people in the community.

“People who are experiencing homelessness are already socially isolated,” Marchesi said.

“And our vans rocking up and providing a safe space to have a shower, wash your clothes and most importantly, have a chat, unfortunately can’t happen at the moment.”

Marchesi agreed that it was extremely difficult for people to self-isolate when they were experiencing homelessness.

He said the charity sector and governments needed to think of innovative solutions to get through the crisis.

“Never before has hygiene and connection been more important to the world, and yet people who don’t have a home face the challenge of not having safe places to isolate or support networks around them,” he said.

“So I think it’s definitely going to be a challenging time.”

People experiencing, or at risk of homelessness, can find information about getting support here

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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