More than 140 serviced apartment buildings across Australia are being made available to provide temporary relief for people who are at risk of homelessness due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It will absolutely save lives,” said Robert Pradolin, founder of Housing All Australians, a not-for-profit organisation that has partnered with apartment hotel giant Quest to accommodate vulnerable Australians during this crisis.
The Salvation Army will help decide who gets to stay in a serviced apartment free of charge for a maximum of one month.
The initiative aims to support family violence victims who are at significantly greater risk of harm during isolation, as well as those who have lost their jobs and are struggling to afford rent payments.
Help won’t be limited to those affected by the coronavirus, Mr Pradolin said.
Those who were already homeless before COVID-19 will still be eligible for housing, he confirmed.
Mr Pradolin wants other serviced apartment operators to copy Quest’s lead.
“We know that there are thousands of empty serviced apartments across the country that are just closed,” Mr Pradolin said.
“If we can open up some of these to share that burden and bring us through this crisis, it will be something that we’d look back on and say, ‘We did the right thing during times of need’.”
Lanz Priestley, a homeless man from Sydney who has stage 4 prostate cancer, welcomed the initiative, saying many of the people who were housed as part of an earlier scheme “are back on the streets again”.
Describing it as a “step in the right direction”, Mr Priestley said he hopes it “doesn’t just dump people back on the streets in the end”.
“There’s a lot who haven’t been eligible for the rooms or apartments that have been available, simply because they don’t qualify for Centrelink,” he said.
However the benefits of this scheme, particularly for rough sleepers, “aren’t questionable”.
“For the homeless community, I don’t think the pandemic has been that different for a lot. The guys on the street are still struggling for food. They’re still struggling for the basic necessities of life, and they still don’t have a roof over their head,” Mr Priestley said.
Livia Carusi, national general manager at Salvation Army, noted a demand for additional accommodation across Australia, particularly for families.
“The availability of short-term accommodation is part of the bigger picture of building much more housing, in particular social housing, for many within our community who are priced out of the private rental market and home ownership,” she said.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Monday reignited calls for the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deliver a “significant investment” in social and affordable housing.
“It’s critical that we are still saying, ‘We are all in this together’, after the lockdown has come to an end – and not just saying it, living up to that standard,” Mr Albanese said in a speech to caucus on Monday.