Australia

Rough sleepers could be back on the streets after coronavirus restrictions ease

A homeless man holds a cup as he begs in Melbourne. Source: AAP

Rough sleepers staying in hotels and motels across Australia may be back on the streets unless the federal government invests in housing, advocates warn.

There are concerns thousands of rough sleepers currently housed in hotels and motels will be back on the street once coronavirus restrictions ease.

State and territory governments have paid hotels to accommodate homeless people to help them self-isolate.

Advocates say the federal government needs to pump money into social housing construction to help people keep a roof over their head.

Agreements between hotels and governments end in June and July, according to a representative body for the accommodation industry.

A man is seen sleeping outside the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.
A man is seen sleeping outside the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.
AAP

Everybody's Home spokeswoman Kate Colvin says there are an estimated 4,000 rough sleepers currently staying in hotels and motels across Australia.

"We are very concerned about what's going to happen as restrictions ease if governments don't provide permanent housing options," she told AAP.

"The risk is governments don't seize that opportunity and people are pushed back onto the street."

Ms Colvin said there had been some positives to the lockdown, with the homeless able to sleep safely and access health services.

She said the WA and NT governments had failed to accommodate people, while Tasmania had crowded people into shelters despite the health hazards.

"The federal government really needs to step up and provide long term housing options for people and that will require a significant investment," Ms Colvin said.

She said public housing stock that had fallen into disrepair should be immediately fixed up to help accommodate the homeless currently in hotels.

Housing the private sector was struggling to sell due to the economic hit of coronavirus should also be made available to rough sleepers, she said.

A homeless woman sits on a street corner in central Brisbane.
A homeless woman sits on a street corner in central Brisbane.
AAP

Ms Colvin warned there was no post-pandemic plan for rough sleepers.

Accommodation Association of Australia chief executive Dean Long said the new arrangements had seen hotels and motels run at reduced capacity and would end by July at the latest.

Mr Long said the return to regular trade depended on when restrictions were eased.

"It's really up to the state governments, it's their measures," he told AAP.

The Australian Council of Social Service said by funding social housing, the government could help the economy recover and create thousands of jobs.

"Direct public investment in social housing is estimated to boost GDP by $1.30 for every dollar invested," chief executive Cassandra Goldie told AAP.

"It's a cost effective way to boost growth in jobs and incomes."

Dr Goldie said about 400,000 Australians - made up of rough sleepers, couch surfers and low-income earners - needed affordable homes.

Ms Colvin said women and children fleeing domestic violence, as well as people left destitute from coronavirus, would also need housing.

The last census found about 116,000 Australians were homeless in 2016, including 8200 people sleeping on the streets.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store. SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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