COVID-19 and homelessness: how do you self isolate without a home?
With toilet paper shortages and panic buying leaving soup kitchens short of supply, Victoria’s most vulnerable have already been hit hard due to the COVID-19 outbreak. With thousands of Australians jobless because of the virus, they’re grappling with months of financial uncertainty during a public health emergency. What if I've lost my job? How can I keep paying rent? What's being done to protect people sleeping rough? We’ve unpacked the latest developments on COVID-19 and how they impact people experiencing homelessness.
I’m a casual. What if I lose my job?
Casual workers who predominately work in industries heavily affected by the coronavirus outbreak (hospitality, events and retail) can now access Jobseeker (formerly 'Newstart) welfare payments. Welfare payments have not been increased in real terms in 25 years, and the fight to ‘raise the rate’ has been going long before COVID-19. However on Sunday March 22, the Federal Government announced a ‘time limited’ coronavirus supplement at a paid rate of $550 per fortnight to both existing and new recipients of Jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. This is a welcome development from the federal government, however this boost is not applied to students. Because of demand, the website did crash on Monday March 23. It's still advised to try and claim the payment online rather than visiting in store, to avoid spreading the virus.
If you think you may be eligible to receive these payments, please contact Services Australia by following this link.
What if I can’t pay my rent?
Around 80 community groups are calling for rent payments to be suspended and evictions to be banned as job losses continue to increase due to COVID-19. Even in normal circumstances, losing a job is a very significant driver of homelessness, so many more people are now at risk of homelessness. Introducing legislations to ban evictions during the outbreak would ensure less people are at risk. Evictions have been banned in cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. While the Prime Minister has encouraged landlords to make ‘sacrifices’, evictions can still take place if bans do not come into effect. As of Sunday night, changes to the tenancy act to protect renters are being considered. Announcements are likely to be made by the end of this week.
If you're concerned about your rights as a renter, please contact Tenants Victoria: https://www.tenantsvic.org.au/
What about people experiencing homelessness?
The Victorian Government announced that they will provide additional funding for accommodation for people who are sleeping rough during the pandemic. Almost $6 million will be provided to Victorian homelessness organisations to help protect Victorians at risk of experiencing homelessness. The Victorian peak body for homelessness, the Council to Homeless Persons, welcomed this announcement, stating that many people who experience homelessness are already in poor health putting them at risk of experiencing more severe symptoms if they do contract the virus. However, there is still a need to protect the health of those sleeping rough, through the provision of more emergency accommodation.
Blessing Bags will continue to provide updates on the latest news and policy developments through our social media channels.
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