Melbourne, Australia– When Melbourne entered a lockdown between March and October last year, street sleepers in the city were considered at high risk.
If there is no safe and isolated place to lock down, people are worried that they can easily contract and spread COVID-19.
The Victorian government’s response was to provide funds for homeless people to enter the city’s empty hotel rooms due to a lack of tourists.
Dave Lovelock is an outreach worker for Launch Housing, a non-profit organization that helps the homeless.
Launch Housing is one of many similar organizations involved in government hotel programs because of their close relationship with street sleepers.
Dave Lovelock’s job is to search the streets for people who might not fall asleep during the pandemic and provide them with a place to stay in one of the designated hotels.
He explained: “Victoria’s response to rough sleep during the COVID lockdown is that everyone who has nowhere to shelter is eligible for accommodation.”
Dave said that although it is not uncommon for organizations such as Launch Housing to help awkward sleepers stay in hotel rooms for short periods of time, they have never done so on such a large scale before.
“Visitors [the hotels] It’s like they always do,” he said. “But it’s more people who sleep in the street, in the car, or in the overcrowded residence. “
Hundreds of people accepted the offer to transfer to the hotel.
Dave said these people often experience “overwhelming benefits to their life structure and stability, feeling safe and secure somewhere. Their mental health has improved significantly on the street.”
However, he explained that, on the contrary, some people—especially women—feel unsafe in overcrowded hotels. Other street sleepers don’t want to enter the hotel at all, preferring the routine and familiar secluded places on the streets where they are used to sleeping.
Although the decision to fund hotel rooms for street sleepers was an appropriate and prompt response to the pandemic, Dave acknowledged that restrictions are now being relaxed, but the Victorian government faces another dilemma-how to deal with those who are now homeless The returnee lived for several months.
Large residential building
The Victorian government recently announced an investment of US$5.3 billion to build social housing.
More than 12,000 houses will be built in the so-called “big housing construction”, and priority housing will be provided for women and children who have suffered domestic violence, indigenous people, and people with mental illness.
Victoria’s Housing Minister Richard Wynne told Al Jazeera in a statement that “the impact of the pandemic has made major investments in housing essential-not only to support those who are in safe housing People who are struggling, and it’s to revitalize our economy.”
Most of these houses will be built within the next four years, and the Minister described them as “the largest single investment in social and affordable housing in the history of the Australian government.”
The announcement was made before the final report on homelessness investigations by the Victorian Government led by Senator Fiona Patten was released.
She said that the release of the report “comes at the right time” and she is waiting for 51 recommendations on whether the government will accept the investigation.
“As the chairperson of this report, I think it is my task to put the homeless first,” she said. “I personally think these recommendations have been implemented.”
Impact of COVID-19
Although the news of large-scale housing construction was welcomed by the homeless sector, some people said it was too late to invest and questioned why a pandemic was needed to force the government to act.
Bevan Warner, CEO of Launch Housing, said that the state government’s recently announced funding is “very good and very principled, but it makes up for a lot of lost time-I think the government has recognized this.”
“But if there is no COVID, I want to know where we will be,” he added.
Among all the states and territories in Australia, Victoria has the lowest investment in social housing and the lowest per capita available social housing rate.
The historical lack of investment means that despite large-scale construction, Victoria will still have a severe shortage of available housing, and it is estimated that by 2036 an additional 166,000 housing units will be needed.
“They are repairing it now, but because of the confluence of these events, they are repairing it,” Bevin said. “The necessity of public health suddenly encountered the embarrassment of insufficient investment, which encountered an opportunity [economic] Stimulate. “
Bevan believes that although support for the homeless has indeed improved in the past decade, the response to such services is still limited if there is no home for people to go to.
“It’s like the doctor can’t operate or provide medicine-come to the hospital, check it, we will talk to you, see you next time.”
Bevan Warner said that the Australian government is not paying enough attention to homelessness.
He said that although education and health are seen as the foundation of society — government-supported free school and medical assistance are proof of this — the way to obtain housing has not received the same support.
“We don’t have a housing policy or housing framework that says that the government’s first priority is that everyone should have a home,” Bevin explained.
He also pointed out that it is hypocritical to spend billions of dollars on the military’s defense budget—more than A$44 billion ($32 billion) in 2020—while spending so little on housing.
He argued that if the defense budget is ostensibly to ensure the safety of people, then housing should be considered in the same way.
“Because there is no sense of security without a home,” he said.
Bevin’s vision is that Melbourne will move towards what he calls “Zero Melbourne”-a city where there are zero homeless people.
“Why can’t we let rough sleep reach zero, because we fix it as soon as we show up,” he asked.
He said that although Melbourne is famous for international sports and high-quality restaurants, his vision is to make the city famous for no homeless people.
“Why can’t Melbourne become the world’s leading city to end homelessness?”
The city is supported by the city of Yarra.