News How do you transition thousands of homeless people out of coronavirus hotel accommodation?

How do you transition thousands of homeless people out of coronavirus hotel accommodation?

'Ian' says he was told he had to leave his hotel accommodation this week due to funding. Photo: ABC News: Margaret Paul
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After 11 years of sleeping rough around Melbourne, the last few months of living in a hotel have given ‘Ian’ something invaluable: stability.

“I was thinking of going to do TAFE or do something, you know? But now …” his voice trails off, and he gestures to his pile of belongings on a city street: a bag, a yoga mat, some food, and an amplifier. His guitar was stolen.

Ian, who does not want to use his real name, said he has been told he has to leave the hotel this week, because of funding.

Speaking to the ABC on Sunday, he said he planned to spend the night on his yoga mat outside an office building on Collins Street.

Ian is one of about 2000 rough sleepers who were put up in hotels as the coronavirus pandemic hit Melbourne, to keep them, and the broader community, safe from the virus.

The Victorian government announced in July that the program would continue until April 2021, while it secured enough long-term rental accommodation for everyone who had come off the streets.

The government said the program would cost $150 million.

But the ABC has been told the rental homes are not ready yet, and the people in hotels are being slowly transitioned out from this week, as coronavirus restrictions ease.

Transition to long-term housing ‘an amazing outcome’

Bevan Walker, the chief executive of Launch Housing, said they were working with individuals to stay in the hotels a bit longer or move out as places like rooming houses opened back up after the lockdown.

He said the promise to provide long-term housing for 2000 rough sleepers was huge, and in a normal year that number would only be “several hundred”.

“Two thousand people with a history of chronic rough sleeping, with a permanent housing outcome, with intensive support to reclaim control over their lives to live a dignified and productive life is an amazing outcome during this pandemic,” he said.

In July, the Government announced it had secured long-term housing for rough sleepers. Photo: ABC News

He said now that coronavirus restrictions were easing in Melbourne, some people were choosing to leave the hotels, to move interstate for work or family reasons, or because living in a hotel does not suit them.

But he is worried some people will fall through the cracks.

“But we shouldn’t let that concern override the scale of the solution we’re putting in place,” he said.

Ninety per cent of ‘very good’ is better than 100 per cent of nothing.”

He said while some homeless people found living in a hotel room difficult, for many the chance for a roof over their head was a “game-changer”.

“For many people, it’s the first time they’ve ever engaged with their own well-being, albeit from a hotel room,” he said.

Government says people will be supported

A spokesperson for the Victorian government said people are not being pushed out of hotels on to the streets.

“There are not hundreds of Victorians being exited from hotel accommodation into homelessness tomorrow,” they said, adding the government was working with organisations to secure private rentals.

“This program transitions people into their own home with intensive wrap-around supports to help them break the cycle of chronic homelessness.

“Those eligible for the program will remain in hotel accommodation until a supported home is leased or purchased specifically for them.”