A new $3 million ACT Government funding package is set to assist people facing homelessness or domestic and family violence by expanding the sector’s operational capacity.
Announced this afternoon, Monday 20 April, the package follows calls from the ACT Greens that Canberra’s rough sleepers should be immediately housed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has acted to provide rough sleepers a safe haven in repurposed aged-care facilities, while the SA Government has already moved to house rough sleepers in empty commercial accommodation.
“We all need a safe and secure place to live. It’s not acceptable that in a community as prosperous as ours, there should be any Canberrans sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness – especially during a time of crisis, as we’re experiencing with COVID,” said ACT Greens candidate Rebecca Vassarotti.
“We understand that there are currently around 65 rough sleepers in Canberra. At a time of unprecedented crisis, it is entirely possible to provide housing for each and every one of these more vulnerable people in our community.”
Ms Vassarotti said the issue was especially important given Safe Shelter ACT has had to stop providing shelter due to the social distancing rules of COVID-19.
“You can’t have the only place rough sleepers can go to escape Canberra’s sub-zero winter close without offering an immediate alternative,” she said.
National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski said they have been advising ministers at the national level to press the National Cabinet to prioritise housing for rough sleepers and those in overcrowded housing who require self-isolation.
“Many states have been providing hotel accommodation to get people off the streets … They will also require support and arrangements should be made with specialist homelessness services to contact and provide support as required. This will mean additional resourcing is required from both the federal and state levels,” Mr Pisarski said.
“We are also extremely concerned about the housing situation of international students, temporary visa holders and asylum seekers unable to access current income support payments. On both health and economic grounds, Australia should be supporting everybody who requires it to ensure we keep people housed, safe and fed through the crisis phase to enable it to be as short as possible and avoid adding to homelessness at this critical stage”
The ACT Government said today’s funding will allow the specialist homelessness sector and domestic and family violence services to expand their operational capacity and relieve the pressure of additional need during COVID-19 and throughout winter.
“The government is providing significant extra funding to increase the available temporary accommodation, expand service capacity to house rough sleepers and enable services to meet increased need from the Canberra community,” ACT Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry said.
“This package will provide immediate financial support that will be complemented by Commonwealth funding for responding to family violence, which will be announced in the coming weeks.”
The ACT Government has allocated $832,000 to provide both emergency and long-term accommodation for men, women and children who face the challenge of physical distancing in shelters, self-isolation when needed and potential quarantine.
This includes $127,000 to upgrade and operate temporary accommodation at The Lodge run by Argyle Housing for men experiencing homelessness during COVID-19; $150,000 for CatholicCare to establish and operate Mackillop House to respond to the growing need for safe supported housing for women and children who are experiencing homelessness during COVID-19; $150,000 for OneLink to increase its existing capacity to coordinate referrals for temporary accommodation options; and $305,000 to furnish and upgrade existing public housing to be made available as crisis and shelter accommodation.
The ACT Government has also allocated $100,000 for CatholicCare to fast track the Axial Housing pilot as the preferred and primary option to house rough sleepers during COVID-19.
Based on Housing First principles, the program provides housing solutions that include the wrap-around supports needed to sustain a tenancy and not result in exits to homelessness after COVID-19. The program will continue to focus on housing Canberra’s entrenched rough sleepers.
ACT Government funding will also target the following supports:
Client Support: $330,000 for OneLink to expand existing operations in response to increased demand on the homelessness services sector. All specialist homelessness service providers across the ACT can access this funding to support current and new clients who are at risk of homelessness due to COVID-19.
Responding to domestic and family violence: $550,000 to respond to an increase in demand for domestic and family violence and sexual assault services and provide emergency accommodation to women, children and families experiencing domestic and family violence.
Provider Support Fund: $1 million in grant funding to support community services organisations adapt and adopt to innovative and essential business changes, including staff safety fixtures and technology requirements to continue operations remotely. The Community Services Directorate will communicate with providers about eligibility and detail on how to access these grants.
The Government’s homelessness and domestic and family violence response package is in addition to the one-off $250 payment to all social housing tenants, full rent relief for six months for community housing providers and $1.5 million for the Canberra Relief Network.