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'We can't go back to the way things were': COVID-19 shifts homelessness response


8 April 2020 at 4:59 pm
Luke Michael
Community groups say support must continue for those experiencing homelessness after the COVID-19 crisis ends             


Luke Michael | 8 April 2020 at 4:59 pm


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'We can't go back to the way things were': COVID-19 shifts homelessness response
8 April 2020 at 4:59 pm

Community groups say support must continue for those experiencing homelessness after the COVID-19 crisis ends             

The coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity to get the nation’s rough sleepers off the street and into secure housing, social sector leaders say.

During an online forum to discuss rough sleeping responses to the crisis, homelessness groups spoke of the importance of long-term support for vulnerable people.

Andrew D’Arcy from Launch Housing in Victoria said outreach workers last week took 280 people off the street, and helped give out food – for people and for pets – and hand sanitiser.

“But while we’re helping people into emergency accommodation, we’re really worried about what’s going to happen at the end of the crisis,” D’Arcy said.                                                                                                  

Shane Jakupec, from Neami National’s Street to Home Service, agreed that adequate post-crisis support was vital.             

He said while some people would just need a light touch once they’re put into temporary housing, previous experience showed there was a large cohort that would need long-term support.

Jakupec said that the pandemic offered a chance for the sector to really push housing as a human right.

“As Australians we’re strongly on board with universal healthcare… it’s about the will to do something [around housing as well],” Jakupec said.

“We have this great opportunity to get everyone off the street that wants to get off the street, and supported and moved into long-term housing.

“Let’s use this once in a generation opportunity [to] change our systems so that no one else goes on the street.”          

The forum was hosted by David Pearson from the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (AAEH).

Pearson told Pro Bono News the crisis showed the nation’s willingness to act quickly and support people who were vulnerable.

He said this willingness shouldn’t dissipate once the pandemic ends.   

“We’ve set a standard during this crisis that says, if you’re rough sleeping, we will shelter you so that you can stay safe. Why would that standard be removed when this crisis is over?” Pearson said.

He said it was not an insurmountable task, given how rapidly people were being temporarily housed at the moment.

“I think the [pandemic] will necessitate a change,” he said.

“Once this crisis is over, we can’t go back to the way things were. We can’t go back to having thousands of people sleeping on the streets of our cities… That’s just not the country that this crisis has shown us to be.”

Calls for national homelessness policy that recognises health issues 

Alongside the online forum, AAEH launched a report calling for a national policy for health equity, housing and homelessness.

The report said homelessness was as much a health crisis as it was a housing crisis.

Pearson said the health system needed to be a part of the solution.  

“It should be part of the standard we set as a country that not only do you get treatment when you present to a hospital, you also are not discharged back into homelessness,” he said.

“And a bus ticket to a men’s shelter is not a discharge into housing.”

The report said a national health, housing and homelessness network was needed, to promote collaboration amongst these sectors and drive better responses to the health and housing needs of the homeless.

Pearson said governments also needed to come together to get a handle on who was sleeping rough and identify who needed help.

He said creating by-name lists – a real-time list of all people experiencing homelessness in a community – was a great way to achieve this.

“One of the things that we really need to use this crisis for, is to figure out how many people are actually sleeping rough and who they are, so we can meet their needs urgently,” he said. 

“And the by-name list methodology has proven to be a really powerful tool in responding to this crisis.

“So we need to get our communities, and really all governments across Australia, to support this methodology to be rolled out.”

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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One comment

  • Avatar Jimmy Jamieson says:

    I fully concur with the premise of a complete review of homeless services, who delivers them and how they are provided.

    With many charities that have tendered to the needs of homeless having suspended their operations due to C-19, the likes of the after hours food vans amongst them, it would seem that their service is now redundant! Some of these services have no idea who they are actually dealing with. Their volunteers dispense food and toiletry packs with abandon but rarely spend more than fleeting moments engaging with the people they meet, at best they know people on a first name basis only. Volunteers have no idea if people are living on the streets or if they have some form of housing.

    These charities need to be asked to explain and justify their existence in the light of what is currently happening. The people that have used their services have moved on and many have found alternative sources of food and relief. When the C-19 crisis is over and things return to some semblance of normality, do these organisations just return to doing it all over again? What is it exactly that they do to relieve homelessness per se? It could be they perpetuate the problem. They need to be more focused on actually speaking with people and be a key part of compiling the ” by-name lists “.

    As a keen participant and observer in this arena over many years, many charities have become marketing focused and wanting to be seen to be doing stuff in order to generate donations. In essence they want to be seen on the streets (hence orange/pink/purple T-shirts, fluro vests, coloured vehicles, etc) but the measure of their success is unclear, ill-defined and counted by the number of meals (of dubious nutritional value) served and not by how many people were housed or issues resolved.

    There are many drop in centres for people to access professional services and where meals, showers and laundry or clothing are available. Hundreds of thousands of dollars get poured into various services on the street but they do little to get people off the street. C-19 has meant charities have taken a protect the name & volunteer approach and left lots of people to fend for themselves, and mostly they are getting by.

    Rough sleepers though need every bit of professional assistance they can get and a major overhaul is required to get charity organisations focused.

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