Rough sleeping has not been abolished
By Meg Hill
There are still people sleeping on the streets of Melbourne despite the measures taken by the state government at the beginning of the pandemic to accommodate rough sleepers in hotel rooms.
At the beginning of the pandemic, state governments across the country housed rough sleepers in hotel rooms. In Victoria there were more than 2000 rough sleepers placed in hotel rooms.
According to sources working in the charity sector there are at least 30 people still sleeping rough in the Hoddle Grid and close surrounds. Docklands News understands those people have been offered accommodation in hotels, but sources said many remained on the streets due to serious and complex mental health issues.
Dr James Petty, an expert on homelessness in Melbourne from the University of Melbourne, told Docklands News it was unsurprising the hotel accommodation had not eradicated the problem.
“It’s definitely welcome that the government recognised the specific and acute vulnerability of people who are experiencing homelessness, but it shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic to precipitate those kinds of supports,” Dr Petty said.
“What I would say generally is that the initiative is really too little too late. If you think you can take this group that are highly vulnerable, that have been systemically neglected in terms of intervention, funding and policy responses, and snap your fingers and fix the problem then that’s sort of silly thinking.”
“If you wanted to have an effective pandemic response, and pandemic plans do have this sort of stuff, for vulnerable people on the streets you need to start 10 years before the pandemic.”
Mr Petty said there were a number of reasons why the hotel accommodation program would not work for every rough sleeper.
“I would challenge the idea that all of those people have refused accommodation in hotels. Some may have refused it on the basis that it’s not suitable for their needs, but some of them have probably just been unable to maintain being accommodated.”
“We know that homelessness and that kind of really acute on-the-street homelessness correlates with poor mental health outcomes and episodes as well as other kinds of challenges.”
Mr Petty backed up reports from the charity sector that an offer of a roof over one’s head was not a fit-all solution.
“I’d have questions about if they’re also offered a way to manage their alcohol and drug use issues if they have that, are they being offered alcohol if they have a dependence issue? Because if they’re not they could go into withdrawal and die, and the same goes with many other addictions.”
“Basically, I would ask if the needs of these people are being met in conjunction with accommodation. They might need acute mental health counselling, medications to manage withdrawals or a supply of the substance they might have a physiological dependence on.”
“You need a response that responds to those things on an individual. In terms of something effective you would need to be able to get that accommodation there, check its ok with them, and if it’s not you need a different option.”
“And then after all that you need to be able to accept that not all people will be able to stay in a hotel room for 24 hours a day.”
A report released in October by Launch Housing found that in other states where the pandemic has been at a lull, particularly South Australia and New South Wales, rough sleeping is again on the rise and many people who were put up in hotels had returned to the streets.
The report, the Australian Homelessness Monitor, warned that only a minority of those in hotels would emerge from the crisis with permanent homes even in Victoria, where the state government extended the program and promised it would be followed by the temporary leasing of 1100 private rental homes to participants.
“Decades of belt-tightening have seen Australia’s social housing supply effectively halved since the 1990s,” lead researcher Professor Hal Pawson said.
“This reflects a long-term policy failure by both levels of government and calls for a revived national social housing program as part of a wider Commonwealth-led reform package.”
Social housing makes up roughly 3.2 per cent of housing in Victorian, making it the worst performing state in the area. The national aver- age is 4.5 per cent.
Meanwhile, the amount of people on the state’s public housing waiting list rose from an estimated 80,000 to an estimated 100,000 over the course of the year so far.