Increase in homeless despite government measures

By Meg Hill

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

Major Brendan Nottle told CBD News the increase in demand was greater even 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 in 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.”

In March the Salvation Army overhauled operations in the CBD to deal with an impending catastrophe for the homeless. Australia has so far dodged many of those catastrophic health care projections, but Major Nottle has warned to keep up diligence.

“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.”

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 will provide healthcare and supported 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 •

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