Concerns for Australia's homeless community as coronavirus continues to spread

Frontline crisis services across the country are making adjustments to how they're helping those who need extra support by imposing social distancing in their facilities and encouraging people not to hoard essential supplies.


For homeless man Bradley the coronavirus outbreak has made his precarious life more difficult. Source: SBS News

For homeless man Bradley, who only wanted to give his first name, the coronavirus pandemic has added an extra challenge to his already difficult daily routine.

“How do you wash your hands if you don't have a home? If you don’t have Dettol or sanitising cloths in public toilets?” the 26-year-old said, speaking to SBS News.

Bradley has epilepsy and doesn't have the sanctuary of a home to self-isolate.

“With all this stuff going on you have to be more careful, extra careful, and being homeless you're already careful,” he said. 

And it’s not just a question of hygiene.

For homelessness services around the country, panic buying and social distancing are making the job of providing free meals to those most in need increasingly difficult.

Services are now calling on people to stop hoarding and to donate excess food supplies to those who need them most.

Reverend Bill Crews from the Exodus Foundation said that since 1989 they have been running the Loaves and Fishes restaurant in Ashfield, Sydney, which has provided almost nine million people with free meals.

"It's the first time in 31 years we've had to close it, so we're really sad. But we haven't closed the kitchen as you can see,” he said.

While the restaurant is closed, the kitchen is moving to a takeaway food model.

Still, Mr Crews said panic buying is making it harder to get the supplies they need and precautions such as temperature checks have needed to be put in place.

"The average person who comes and eats here has three chronic illnesses, not one but three. The coronavirus could possibly kill a lot of them so we have to be as careful as we can be,” Mr Crews said.

Coronavirus has led to panic buying across the country.
Coronavirus has led to panic buying across the country. Source: AAP

For regulars to the food kitchen such as Joe Karadjian, it is the human contact he misses most. ​

"I used to always have a huge hug and a kiss and a cuddle with the reverend every morning,” he said.

And it's not just homelessness services that have been impacted. 

Australia's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is also scaling back services as a lack of volunteers and donations make supplies scarce. ​

"The food bank supports more than 700 people and families a week," Alan White from the centre said.

"Forty-five per cent of them are children. [We need] to make sure they have the basic supplies to survive each week.” 

The centre is also urging the community against stockpiling and asking people to donate their extra supplies.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

3 min read
Published 21 March 2020 at 7:40am
By Catalina Florez