Push for national COVID-19 response to address rough sleeping
15 July 2020 at 4:47 pm
Homelessness groups say COVID-19 community transmission could rise if rough sleepers are put back on the street
Thousands of rough sleepers who have been temporarily sheltered during the COVID-19 pandemic are at risk of being forced back into homelessness unless urgent action is taken, advocates warn.
The Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (AAEH) estimates that more than 5,000 people experiencing or at risk of sleeping rough were temporarily sheltered in the first eight weeks of the pandemic.
A new campaign – Homes Beyond Covid – was launched by the AAEH this week, calling for collaborative action to find permanent housing and support for everyone sleeping rough or in temporary placements due to COVID-19.
AAEH chair Karyn Walsh said that homelessness was as much a health policy issue as it was an infrastructure and social services one.
“People sleeping rough are an incredibly vulnerable health population, and if they get COVID-19 it will not just be bad for community transmission, it would be fatal for many of them,” Walsh said.
“The best prescription we can provide for people sleeping rough as we recover from this health crisis is housing with support or simply a home – not a hotel room.”
Walsh said that people cannot comply with social distancing, personal hygiene and self-isolation health measures without a home.
“Tipping people back onto the streets simply cannot be an option, but without urgent action it will be the only option for too many people,” she said.
AAEH CEO David Pearson told Pro Bono News the rapid response to provide shelter to vulnerable people during the pandemic showed rough sleeping was an entirely solvable problem.
He said a national approach was needed because the support being offered differed across each state and territory.
“New South Wales has invested in a private rental subsidy scheme using the private rental system. That’s really important. We need other states to do things like that,” Pearson said.
“We need to better coordinate the way homelessness services work so that we can triage and provide access to housing for those most at risk.”
The AAEH has released a seven-point COVID-19 National Rough Sleeping Homelessness Pandemic Response Plan.
It said a $49 million investment would give 2,500 people who are temporarily sheltered an immediate private rental property as well as support.
The plan also calls for the federal government to establish a Health, Housing and Homelessness Network, the creation of local by-name lists, and the widening of policy provisions so that medical practitioners can bulk bill patients with no fixed address.
Pearson said he would like to see the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission show leadership on the issue and drive a national rough sleeping response plan.
A spokesperson for National COVID-19 Coordination Commission would not comment on any plans to tackle rough sleeping, but told Pro Bono News the commission had established the not-for-profit working group to consider government and sector responses to issues affecting vulnerable Australians.
For Pearson, the COVID crisis offers the opportunity to end rough sleeping in Australia.
“What we can do is permanently lift the social safety net in Australia off the street, so that support actually kicks in before people reach that point,” he said.
“But if we don’t do it, not only will we not take that opportunity, we’ll also make the problem that we know is coming with the looming economic crisis so much worse.”