Australia could end homelessness and permanently change the lives of more than 16,000 people who have been put up in housing during the coronavirus crisis, leading advocacy groups say.
And three-quarters of Victorians want the state government to build “significantly more public and community housing” according to an Essential poll conducted on the eve of National Homelessness Week.
Support to build more homes for vulnerable people was strong among Labor voters (84 per cent) and Coalition voters (78 per cent).
Australia has a social housing shortfall of about 433,000 properties and about 116,000 people are on the streets on any given night, according to the ABS.
Research conducted by the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness shows that 16,000 individuals and families without stable accommodation have been taken off the streets and put into motels as part of the nation’s COVID-19 response.
Advocacy groups say the coronavirus has presented a unique opportunity to end homelessness once and for all.
Wayne Clark, 53, developed a back issue in 2018 that prevented him from working as a bricklayer.
After living in four different rooming houses, he ended up on the street.
“It got to the point where it got really bad and I couldn’t work any more. And when I was in rooming houses I ended up going on Newstart, and virtually my whole Newstart was going to rent,” he told The New Daily.
“I lived in another couple rooming houses, same thing – disgusting, overpriced, unsafe, I couldn’t afford to stay there. I had nothing to live.
“That’s when I ended up on the street. I found it was safer. Keeping the money in my own pocket.”
Since March, he’s been one of the 4500 Victorians placed into a motel to stop the homeless community catching COVID-19.
It’s not only kept him safe, but Mr Clark said having a nice room to look after changed his life.
“It’s been peaceful and quiet. What food I bought, I knew was going to stay there. It is nice to just be in a nice room. There’s something to look after,” he said.
He had critical surgery on his back, and the motel means he had a safe place to rehabilitate while recovering.
Last week, the Victorian government announced that it would continue the emergency motel funding until April as part of a package designed to reduce the rates of people sleeping rough in the state.
For Mr Clark, this gives him time to get into a private rental.
“Now I’m looking at private rental or Airbnb long term, sharing with another one or two people in the same situation.
‘Feel human again’
In Adelaide, caseworker Scott Richards said the local program had helped hundreds of people get off the street.
“I’m fortunate enough to work for a service provider. We put just over 400 people in just under 300 hotel rooms here in Adelaide,” Mr Richards said.
Before he worked in homelessness services, Mr Richards lived on the streets. He said in all his years, he’s never seen anything like this.
“There are instances where people just feel a little human again,” he said.
“I’ve had the door answered. They’ve had the first shower in God knows how long. They’re groomed and cleaned. I don’t recognise them.
“The conversation is open to other things, rather than where are you going to sleep tonight or where you’ll eat tonight.”
The impact on many people has been huge, rebuilding confidence and giving them privacy for the first time in years, he said.
“Now there’s room to invest in the person,” Mr Richards said.
“It’ll be hit and miss. Those that were never going to make the most of it aren’t, but there are those that see it as ‘Wow, I can get off the street, I can be safe. I don’t need to be scared all the time’. It’s been beautiful.
“They get to have a shower in their time, wake up in their time. They get power back in their life. It might be so long since they’ve experienced that.
“We’ve had good results.”
Australian Alliance to End Homelessness chief executive David Pearson said many states were taking positive steps to respond to rough sleeping homelessness, but a national strategy, a ‘HomeSeeker Package’, is needed to end rough sleeping homelessness.
“Ending homelessness is possible – it is a solvable problem,” Mr Pearson said.
“Despite the common misconception, the scale of homelessness in Australia is entirely solvable.
“There has never been a better time to end homelessness in Australia, given the significant responses to COVID-19 that we have seen.
“This is our opportunity to do something that is not only needed but achievable.”