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The Victorian government has launched a new $150 million package to address homelessness during COVID-19 and beyond.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Victorian government provided 2,000 homeless Victorians with accommodation in vacant hotels to help reduce social mobility as part of the lockdown restrictions.
The government has now announced that it will extend this hotel accommodation to at least April 2021 while the 2,000 recipients are supported to access long-term housing.
Moreover, the state government’s new “From Homelessness to a Home” package will help find more permanent housing for these homeless residents.
The Victorian government said it will arrange to lease 1,100 properties from the private rental market to provide permanent homes for people once they leave their emergency accommodation. This investment will provide them with housing in the short term while providing long-term support to assist them with finding their home.
Each individual will have access to support packages to help them while they are in crisis hotel accommodation, including mental health, drug and alcohol, and family violence support for those who require it.
The same support will be available to help maintain a tenancy once they move to other long-term housing.
The first of the government’s promised 1,000 new social housing units will also soon be coming online.
In addition, the government has said the Private Rental Assistance Program will also gain extra funding to encourage people leaving emergency hotel accommodation to set up their own private tenancy, helping with the bond and initial rent.
Funding will be allocated to homelessness agencies in both metropolitan and regional areas, allowing them to provide services based on individual needs.
The investment follows the nearly $25-million funding for emergency housing, isolation and coronavirus recovery facilities for people experiencing homelessness, and almost $500 million to upgrade and build new community and public housing across the state.
‘Now more than ever, home means stability, security and safety’
Commenting on the package, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said: “This pandemic has laid bare many inequalities – you can’t stay home if you don’t have one, and you can’t wash your hands regularly if you don’t have access to the bare basics of hot water and soap.
“This is our opportunity to help break the cycle of homelessness – because now more than ever, home means stability, security and safety.”
Victoria’s minister for housing, Richard Wynne, added: “With more housing options and wrap-around support to go with it, we’re giving Victorians the best possible chance to find a path out of homelessness and get their lives back on track.”
Those working in the housing and homelessness sector have reacted positively to the package, with the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness’ David Pearson stating that many states were taking positive steps to respond to rough sleeping homelessness.
“[This] $150-million announcement from the Victorian government shows the kind of leadership we need to break the cycle of homelessness,” Mr Pearson said.
However, he pushed for a national strategy to end homelessness and suggested a “HomeSeeker Package” could achieve this goal.
“Ending homelessness is possible – it is a solvable problem. Despite the common misconception, the scale of homelessness in Australia is entirely solvable.
“Considering there are approximately 8,200 people who sleep rough on any given night in Australia, the responses we’ve seen have been a phenomenal effort,” he said.
The director of the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia, Professor Paul Flatau, said his estimates have shown that around 16,000 individuals and family units experiencing homelessness have received temporary accommodation in hotels and motels with health and social support across Australia as part of state and territory responses to provide COVID-19 temporary accommodation.
“Many of those receiving support are those sleeping rough. The aim now is to provide permanent housing for people and not see people return to homelessness,” Professor Flatau said.
The announcement of the package by the Victorian government comes ahead of this week’s hearings for the inquiry into homelessness in Australia held by the standing committee on social policy and legal affairs.
Today and tomorrow (29 and 30 July), the committee will hear from representatives of all three levels of government, including the Lord Mayors of Melbourne and Sydney, the Northern Territory government, and federal government agencies, as well as the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation.
The committee will also have the opportunity to hear from individuals with experiences of homelessness.
Committee chair and MP Andrew Wallace said the hearings will provide an opportunity to learn about the different approaches to providing housing and homelessness services in these different communities.
“The committee will also hear about support services for groups of Australians that we know are particularly at risk of homelessness, including older Australians and veterans, and about the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 situation,” Mr Wallace said.
The NSW government recently launched a $36-million Together Home project to secure rental housing and support services for rough sleepers in the state.