MEDIA RELEASE: COVID-19 – Targeted Response to Homelessness Needed Now!

Many people, already doing it tough with insecure or no housing, are being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the homelessness and housing services that support them.

Homelessness services providers from across Western Australia met to discuss the current and future impact of COVID-19 on their services and their clients. Services, already at full capacity are stretched and face a tsunami of additional pressures as the pandemic’s impact unfolds.

Issues raised included maintaining services if staff or clients are exposed to Covid-19, the problem of sourcing critical supplies, the inability of people who live in boarding or lodging houses or overcrowded homes to self-isolate, and the significant cost and resourcing implications to backfill staff who cannot work. Front and center of discussions was the concern for people who are sleeping rough, who are often unwell and those at risk of falling into homelessness.

Targeted and safe outreach services

“To flatten the curve, we need immediate support for people who experience homelessness or live in overcrowded, insecure and inappropriate housing,” said Michelle Mackenzie, CEO of Shelter WA. ‘Immediate access to housing and accommodation for people to self-isolate is critical, along with targeted, safe outreach services to people sleeping rough, who are often unwell and more at risk.”

“We are hearing that people who are experiencing homelessness are fearful, so access to good information about COVID-19 with targeted response measures including housing and service support must be provided.”

Supporting people in the casualised workforce

As the economic consequences hit, the flow on to an already stretched social housing and homelessness sector will be acute. Many people are at risk of housing insecurity as they are unable to pay bills, mortgages or rents due to circumstances beyond their control such as illness, self-isolation or job losses. There is an urgent need to support people in the casualised workforce and those on income support to ensure they do not fall into homelessness.

A C-19 response team for homelessness has been established by the homelessness services sector in partnership with Shelter WA to co-ordinate a sector response and to work with government on specific initiatives.

Rough sleepers are particularly vulnerable

Services are working hard leading measures to prevent and contain the virus, but targeted assistance is required. People experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are especially vulnerable in this outbreak, and we need to pull together to look after all people in our community.

Shelter WA along with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness and WA Council of Social Services are calling on the Federal and State Governments, to develop an urgent package of support. This includes increased outreach support, and access to testing and results for the people whom we support, urgent access to accommodation and housing to enable people to self-isolate, a moratorium on evictions, no exiting of people into homelessness, new funding for services to cover increased staffing and resource costs and access to shared clinical health expertise across the homelessness services system. Also, immediate support for people who lose their jobs to pay their rent to prevent a second wave of homelessness.

Homelessness and housing services must be recognized as critical services if we are to prevent and contain the risk of this virus spreading. Other jurisdictions have acted. We need an urgent response from government before it is too late.

Fast Facts

• Over 9,000 people experience homelessness every day across WA.
• Over 4,300 people access specialist homelessness services every day.
• Over 14,000 are on the wait list for social housing.
• Over 6,000 people who live in insecure housing are at risk of homelessness.

Media Contacts

  • Michelle Mackenzie CEO & Spokesperson – Shelter WA 0419 931 819
  • John Berger Independent Chair of the Western Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (WAAEH) 0403 451 501
  • Samantha Drury CEO St Bart’s 0439 291 989
  • Debra Zanella CEO RUAH 0408 637 200
  • Michael Piu CEO St. Patrick’s Community Support Centre 0402 121 268
  • Mark Glasson CEO Anglicare WA 0419 930 521