A program to shelter homeless Victorians in hotels during the coronavirus pandemic has been extended until April next year, to the great relief of welfare agencies.
“This will be a life-saving measure,” said Bevan Warner, the CEO of Launch Housing.
It means the 2,000 people who were sleeping rough and are now in hotels and motels will have somewhere to ride out the pandemic, at least until April.”
The hotel program was swiftly set up in the early days of the pandemic.
Outreach workers combed the streets and parks of Melbourne and other capital cities looking for rough sleepers, offering them shelter in hotels and empty student accommodation.
Around 7,000 homeless people were given shelter through the program.
Social workers soon noticed another added upside, aside from safety.
By having their clients in one location, rather than constantly on the move, they could make much faster progress putting them on a path to permanent accommodation.
“If we go back to their sleep site, they may not be there and you may not see them again for months,” Launch Housing outreach worker Dana McGrory told the ABC in June.
“They can be really hard to get your hands on.”
In New South Wales, 100 people were successfully transitioned off the streets into permanent accommodation between April and June — in a state that usually only manages around 200 such cases in a year.
In South Australia, Neami National was placing around six people a day in June — well above its usual rate of around 11 a month.
Bevan Warner was one of the leaders of the campaign to make the program permanent — arguing that the pandemic had shown there was a way to solve homelessness in Australia for good, and for less money than the status quo of leaving people on the streets.
“It costs more in police call-outs, and having doctors and nurses treat people in emergency wards, than it does to provide people with a home,” he said.
With the 1,000 clients that we have currently in emergency accommodation, we’d be saving $15 million a year.”
Those numbers are backed up by a 2015 University of Queensland study that calculated savings of more than $13,000 a year for each homeless person taken off the street, because they had fewer health problems and less trouble with the law.
The $150 million package announced by the Victorian Government covers hotel accommodation for around 2,000 homeless people until next April, as well as the cost of leasing 1,100 properties on the private rental market.
Those properties are intended to become permanent homes for people who leave emergency accommodation.
“It’s a sign that we, as a community, have the ability to build back better from this pandemic. Homelessness is solvable, but not without more homes and more support and this announcement does both,” Mr Warner said.
“Melbourne can be a world leader in ending homelessness and these former rough sleepers are being given a very significant opportunity to move ahead with their lives.”