By Meg Hill
When society grinds to a halt, events are cancelled, businesses shut and most of us head indoors to self-isolate, but what happens to our vulnerable?
The CBD’s homeless and those organisations that care for them are bracing for the dire impacts that may soon be felt. Everything from food, medical resources and buildings are being sourced to care for the pre-existing homeless community plus a potential influx of individuals thrown onto the streets during the crisis.
Major Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army said the charity was working frantically.
“We’ve had our café we operate for people that are homeless deemed an essential service by the Chief Medical Officer and we’re doing everything we can to stay open and remain safe,” Major Nottle said.
“Yesterday we had a forensic clean of the building that took about eight hours. The cleaners are back again this afternoon for another eight hours.”
He said the café had replaced all cutlery with disposable utensils, and that he was having additional freezers delivered for storage, while also working with the City of Melbourne to source buildings to get the homeless off the streets to isolate and quarantine.
All of this was in the goal to avoid a chilling worst case scenario.
“We are preparing for a day that may come where we have to close the café and deliver those meals onto the street,” Major Nottle said.
“In the worst-case scenario, we’ve purchased face masks and are trying to source hazmat suits to deliver so people don’t go hungry and to remain social contact.”
As everyone increases what has come to be known as social distancing, Major Nottle said we should be mindful of what that meant for the homeless and vulnerable.
“Social isolation for the people we work with is one of the biggest issues they have to deal with,” he said.
“We will need to be checking in on people’s mental and physical health on the street.”
“We’re trying to access really quite large volumes of food in an environment that is inviting and not threatening.”
“Presumably there will be lots of people who have never approached us before.”
Major Nottle said the Salvation Army was also working on technological communication capabilities to check in on mental health and keep social communication open – even while social distancing.
He also thanked the Victorian Government and Premier Daniel Andrews for homelessness and public housing support announced on March 18.
The state government will provide almost $6 million to homelessness organisations to help them deal with the crisis.
It will help with the search for temporary housing for the homeless and private rental brokerage for those at risk of falling into homelessness.
Minister for Housing Richard Wynne said the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic would have wide-ranging impacts across our community but would hit the homeless particularly hard.
“This funding will help to get a roof over the head of more Victorians, helping to reduce transmission amongst the community and provide those who are unwell with a safe place to recover,” Minister Wynne said.
“We’re also making sure our public housing tenants have the information, advice and support they need to look after themselves during this pandemic.”
The Council to Homeless Persons (CHP) also welcomed the announcement from the state government.
But CHP CEO Jenny Smith called on the federal government to step up to deal with the issue of loss of income en masse for those that may become homeless. Specifically, CHP recommended payments to cover at least a month’s rent for those affected, with extensions provided to ensure against evictions.
“The federal government also needs to provide payments to enable people living in overcrowded housing who need to self-isolate, to get into alternative accommodation,” Ms Smith said.
“This pandemic has highlighted the increased vulnerability that decades of inadequate provision of social housing has created for our community during a health crisis.”
“Governments need to be planning now to ensure that longer term there is enough social housing to meet the need in our community from people who cannot afford private rental.” •