Maintaining support for Maroondah’s homeless in face of COVID-19

For people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage in Maroondah, access to local services are still available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across Maroondah, crisis support providers and other agencies are working proactively to minimise the impact of COVID-19.

For people sleeping rough, going into self-isolation is near impossible.

Even in ideal circumstances, meeting the basic needs of unhoused people is a daunting challenge, and providers rely on the support of volunteers to meet it as best they can.

Six nights a week, across three different venues, volunteers from various organisations serve free takeaway meals to people experiencing disadvantage and homelessness.

The Winter Shelter has partnered with Council to provide bathroom and shower services at a temporary location until regular services are restored.

A recipient at this year’s Maroondah Australia Day awards, Winter Shelter is a joint program of local Christian churches that normally provides temporary overnight accommodation, food and support during the winter months for people in Maroondah experiencing homelessness.

Winter Shelter program coordinator Gitta Clayton says a warm meal and a hot shower are giving people who are experiencing homelessness a sense of dignity.

“The most valuable part of the shower program is being able to engage with people who come to use it. We show that we care, we listen to their stories if they want to share them, and we value them as people who are as important as everyone else,” Ms Clayton said.

“We are ensuring that social distancing and hygiene measures are adhered to, and that the appropriate screening questions are asked before anyone enters the complex,” she said.

Members of the community have also stepped in to help, with knitted items such as beanies and scarves and hygiene products being donated.

Almost 4,000 people in Melbourne’s eastern region make up the more than 100,000 Australians who are experiencing homelessness, according to latest Homeless Australia figures.

People experiencing homelessness are unevenly distributed throughout Maroondah, with Ringwood, Ringwood East and Croydon representing the highest numbers.

Many of them are Melbourne’s ‘hidden homeless’, people who live temporarily with others but who aren’t guaranteed permanent, private and secure housing.

Jo McDonald, Eastern Homelessness Network (EHN) Coordinator, said that while services were adapting well to the “new normal”, social distancing laws may inadvertently push people experiencing homelessness who are ‘couch surfing’, or living temporarily with family or friends, into seeking help from a homelessness service.

The rising number of people slipping into financial destitution due to the pandemic crisis also meant many faced the prospect of having nowhere to live.

“Rental stress will increase with many people’s income directly affected by COVID-19. We are already seeing an increase in the amount of people seeking assistance to pay their rent,” Ms McDonald said.

“There have obviously been changes in the way staff are able to assess the needs of people in the first place and then offer them meaningful ongoing support. Most support is being offered via phone, and while face-to-face support is much more limited, everyone seems to be finding new, innovative ways to ensure the best outcomes for their clients,” she said.

Ms McDonald welcomed the Victorian Government’s recently announced $6 million funding boost to help reduce the incidence of rough sleeping and homelessness across the state.

She hopes the funding will go some way towards providing homelessness agencies in the eastern region with extra resources needed to find temporary accommodation for those who need it most, including refuge accommodation and transitional housing options for women and children escaping family violence.

The Government announced the funding would also go towards private rental brokerage for those at risk of falling into homelessness, helping to keep them in a safe and affordable accommodation, and to reduce community transmission of COVID-19.

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