Hidden plight of homelessness
Hidden plight of homelessness
5 August 2020
The Salvation Army is the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year and case numbers across the country began to escalate, the Army quickly responded to adapt and help meet the growing and constantly changing needs of people experiencing homelessness, especially those for the first time.
Now, as Melbourne experiences a second lockdown and coronavirus cases in other parts of Australia rise, this flexible response is continuing.
“We were watching what was happening overseas early this year and knew that Australia would not be exempt from the pandemic,” says Livia Carusi, the Army’s General Manager for Homelessness. “We also knew that vulnerable people were at greater risk of coronavirus and would be hardest hit.”
The Salvation Army swung into action. Major Jenny Begent, Head of Social Mission, had daily meetings with Livia and the general managers of the three other social mission streams – Alcohol and Other Drugs, Family Violence, and Youth – as well as state managers and a range of team leaders, to work on managing service response at different phases of the pandemic, and keeping the business continuity plan current.
“The Salvation Army around the country also liaised with external authorities around expectations of our organisation and collaboration,” says Livia. “Our teams continue to meet regularly to focus on the recovery process, although that is changing again now with the situation in Victoria.”
The pandemic has brought changes to the way the Army’s Homelessness Stream interacts with clients and community members, with many of these new ways of operating expected to remain into the future.
“We are adhering to all government guidelines, which include an increased level of cleaning at all sites, rostering staff to ensure our ability to be agile and mobile, increased consultation with other streams, and moving people between streams to continue services and connections,” explains Livia.
“We have also moved to increased contact via email, phone and use of technologies where possible, which is working well and will probably continue going forward. This also applies to services such as transition housing and support.”
In Salvation Army residential settings, such as Pindari Crisis and Supported Accommodation in Brisbane, clients were moved to new temporary accommodation, Atira student apartments, as part of a government initiative to house some of the city’s most vulnerable people in one place and help combat the spread of COVID-19. The Salvation Army continues to provide support for the clients.
In the Northern Territory, Darwin’s Red Shield Hostel is undergoing a major redevelopment, now with COVID-19 guidelines being applied. Cultural considerations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are also a major feature of the redevelopment.
“Our buildings are no longer fit for purpose,” says Livia. “We need to make sure, with strict hygiene and social-distancing policies in place, that our facilities are appropriate. It’s time to move away from shared facilities. This won’t be the last public health crisis, so we need to be prepared for what might come next. “This has impacted decisions around occupancy rates, as well as keeping staff updated with current changes, appropriate signage and industrial cleaning. We have also had to identify rooms that, should someone present with symptoms or need to self-isolate, that we could ensure their safety and that of other residents.
“Group activities have had to be suspended and residents given more access to TVs, books, jigsaw puzzles and the like, to keep them active and engaged. We are, of course, very mindful of the health and wellbeing of our staff and are ensuring they are doing well and getting the support they need.”
These changes have been consistent across the four streams of Social Mission.
Work supporting rough sleepers has continued, as this group of people are particularly vulnerable and at risk. “We are responding appropriately, using personal protective equipment and social distancing,” says Livia. “In Victoria, under State Manager Shane Austin and together with other agencies, we are getting people off the street and into hotels and motels, which provides them a level of independence with attached support. This is happening in other states as well.
“It’s hard to say what will happen in the future. I hope that the government, businesses and charities will get it right and we can assist the homeless into stable and permanent housing so they don’t come back onto the streets. We don’t want a new generation of homelessness – we want to respond through prevention.
“We are also working with people who have never been homeless or sought help before – people whose entire industry has been impacted by the pandemic. People will continue to hurt, and how they recover will to a degree depend on what we do as a community, and how we all respond.
“For The Salvation Army, we will, both now and into the future, respond with assistance to those who knock on our doors. We will keep engaging with governments, the business sector and other agencies – we have a long history of working with the homeless and bring a lot to the table.
“We will be there for the long haul with other like-minded organisations and we need to speak
up around decision and policy recommendations to ensure people get the help and dignity they deserve. It’s as basic as William Booth’s ‘I’ll Fight’ message.”
Livia says that stimulating and expanding social housing is critical to solving homelessness and giving people dignity and a permanent home. This includes using the private rental market where appropriate, as well as the increased use of serviced apartments taken ‘offline’ and used as a private rental.
“These ideas are becoming more established and are also more appropriate for other vulnerable people, such as women leaving situations of domestic violence, or First Nations peoples,” she says.
“The ideas are out there and homelessness can be eliminated. There has to be a strong political will, a collective desire to end street sleeping, a drive to building the necessary societal structures, and stimulating the economy in a way that allows for social and affordable housing, especially as we work through the pandemic and beyond.”