#HW2022 | COVID and Homelessness

Homelessness Week is a national week to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face, and the action needed to end homelessness not just manage it.

COVID and Homelessness

The COVID pandemic raised significant issues across all the social determinants of health, with homelessness presenting unique public health challenges here in WA and across the globe. On Monday, 1 August Shelter WA held a session on COVID and homelessness.

Lydia Stazen, Director, Institute of Global Homelessness attended the session via zoom. Lydia presented an overview of the work of the Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) which drives a global movement to end street homelessness. IGH is the first organization to focus on homelessness as a global phenomenon with an emphasis on those who are living on the street or in emergency shelters. Lydia outlined the IGH’s framework:

  • See It

|Advocate for international homelessness policy focused on definition/measurement.

  • Solve It

|Partner with cities and countries eager to take concrete action to solve the problem.

  • Share It

|Connect with others to coalesce the global movement.

A key initiative of the IGH is the Vanguard Program: A Global Movement to End Homelessness in 2017 with key global strategic partners. Each city, known as a Vanguard City, has made a commitment to significantly reduce or end street homelessness in reflection of their local context. Vanguard cities leverage the foundation of the IGH work supporting local leadership, exchanging knowledge, creating a global infrastructure, and advocating for change. In Australia both Adelaide and Sydney are vanguard cities.

Improved Collaboration

In acknowledgment of the session’s theme Lydia outlined international research undertaken by the Institute with the Vanguard Cities which included looking at the differential impact of COVID-19. The report found a range of cities reported improved collaboration between homelessness and health services during the COVID-19 crisis, and in some cases a reconceptualization of street homelessness as a public health emergency precipitated a more inclusive and less conditional public policy approach to those affected, including migrants. A key challenge pointed out through the research would be maintaining and building on these improvements in the post-pandemic world.

Watch the event here

Lydia highlighted the opportunity taken during the pandemic in Glasgow to permanently ‘design out’ use of dormitory-style shelters. On the back of a coordinated voluntary sector effort, supported by national and local government, Glasgow’s sole pre-COVID communal sleeping facility was replaced with a “rapid rehousing welcome centre” providing self-contained, en-suite rooms with rapid links to housing, welfare and support services.

The full report and the executive summary can be found on this website towards the bottom of the here.

Lydia was followed by a panel discussion with Sharon Gough, CEO of Indigo Junction and Matt Larkin, Homeless Health Service Manager at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney.

Matt reflected on the work undertaken at St Vincents to support people experiencing homelessness in response to COVID. The Sydney experience was springing into action, leveraging relationships with government, the NGO sector, and the City of Sydney and their existing programs. COVID gave people the authority to act. Street outreach increased with teams working out which people to move into temporary and long-term accommodation. Specialist hospital accommodation (SHAC) would swing in if they had nowhere else to go. They have undertaken a lessons learnt to future proof the response for future pandemics with two new programs up and running soon.

Sharon reflected on the impact of COVID on Indigo Junction. The WA COVID experience was very different to Sydney and so was the government response to people who were sleeping rough in terms of housing and accommodation. Sharon spoke about the successful vaccination program, progressed in partnership with the Department of Health and Police, to reach out to where people lived working closely with Aboriginal Elders and members of the community to support people to become vaccinated. Challenges identified was the rapidly changing health advice and knowing how to pivot services in response to this.

Homelessness Week 2022 would not be possible without the support of our sponsors: Lotterywest, the WA Alliance to End Homelessness, Department of Communities, Fleetwood Australia, Uniting Church in the City and Beyond Bank.

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