People are being evicted from the emergency hotel accommodation right now

For immediate release: 30.11.2020

Under the clamour of the social housing and budget announcements last week, the government ceased the funding that provided security for the state’s most marginalised people.

RAHU has seen communication from homelessness services and DHHS briefs to their staff which confirm there is not enough ongoing housing and people are being exited with nowhere to go. This confirms multiple reports we’ve received from caseworkers and hotel residents, and contradicts the government’s statement to the ABC that “There are not hundreds of Victorians being exited from hotel accommodation into homelessness tomorrow”.

RAHU demands the Victorian Government immediately recommence funding the emergency hotel accommodation until permanent housing is available. Everybody deserves a home, during and beyond a pandemic. It is unacceptable that the government is willingly recommitting thousands of people back into to homelessness.

The Renters and Housing Union demands that the Victorian Government:

1.     Ensure housing for all people experiencing homelessness who have been accommodated during Victoria’s hard lockdown in hotels.

2.     Continue funding hotel emergency accommodation for those who are waiting on housing allocations, especially in circumstances where rooming houses are not available or unsuitable when their ‘exit date’ comes. 

3.     Enact systemic change in the response to homelessness that removes rooming houses as a housing option, or holds them to a much higher standard, with greater supervision and oversight by Government and/or Councils

Background on the situation – DHHS ceases funding as health response deemed over

RAHU has been informed by our members that evictions from emergency hotel accommodation began in the second week of November. The funding was originally stated to last through until April. This was confirmed by multiple sources including: hotel residents who themselves have been evicted or given notice, support workers, hotel workers and street kitchen workers. 

Homelessness services who were responsible for the provision of motel accommodation to thousands of people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic are now telling clients and workers that the health response to Covid-19 has been deemed over by DHHS, and that they have suffered significant funding cuts as a result.

Homelessness access points have had their funding ceased, or significantly reduced, emergency accommodation is at capacity, and the exit options promised, including 1,100 head-lease tenancies for exited clients have still not materialised.

Quotes attributable to RAHU member Frontline Workers in DHHS Hotel Emergency Response Team:

“The statement that the Victorian Government made in the ABC article last night is 100% false.  Across approximately 10 hotels, hundreds of clients are being exited into rough sleeping today across Melbourne.”

“The organisation I work for planned to move these clients on to rooming houses, however we have been told by management that there will not be enough rooming house options for everyone and they will be told to “self-resolve”: go back to living on the streets of Melbourne.”

“I have worked as a frontline worker in one of the many hotels supporting people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this time I’ve been able to witness firsthand the amazing holistic changes these people have been to make in their lives. For the Victorian government to now take this human right away from so many people is a disgrace and is likely to result in an added stress on our already underfunded mental health and hospital systems.”

“If the Andrews government wants to show that it cares for people experiencing homelessness it must act now and provide these people with sustainable and humane housing.”

Quotes attributable to RAHU member homelessness support workers:

“I have already had clients I’ve been working with exited from motel accommodation into street homelessness and I’ve been instructed more will be today and throughout the next two weeks. I can’t understand how DHHs can contradict that this is happening.”

“For some, the impact of being put out onto the street is so stressful they are expressing they wished they were never put into accommodation during the pandemic.

The shock of believing the government would be supporting them to stay in accommodation until April or until they are placed in stable housing, to then being put out into the street, has been devastating. I have seen it trigger severe declines in mental health.”

“It has broken our trust with clients who have been long term homelessness but have only recently re-engaged with homelessness services, after becoming rightfully disillusioned with a system that has turned them over to privately operated for profit rooming houses, or turned them away.”

“Covid-19 restrictions may have eased but that does not mean sleeping rough is suddenly a safe or acceptable option for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Quotes attributable to a RAHU member and support worker

When the Covid-19 crisis started there was a really heightened sense of urgency and the housing and homelessness sector had to respond with the infrastructure it already had. Essentially, the system of funding hotel accommodation for people was going to be the simplest way to get everyone off the street quickly because the systems for doing it were already in place.

But the hotel response to rough sleeping was never the miracle cure to end homelessness that the Victorian government has tried to cast it as. It was never about people sleeping rough and was always about the public health concerns of the mainstream community. If this was about resolving homelessness we would have seen solutions with a bit of foresight, with some planning for the future. We would have seen the solutions the Victorian government claim to be providing- we’d be seeing people move from these hotels into homes. Not back to the street. Not back to rooming houses. Not back to family violence, poverty, criminalisation, stigma.

We might even be seeing solutions that respond to the concerns of people actually experiencing it. Residents of emergency accommodation like this are acutely aware that it isn’t a sustainable solution to homelessness. Congregate settings are hard to make work. At an established crisis accommodation up the road there are usually around 30 support workers onsite at a time for a 52 room facility. It can be a tough place to live but generally people get some high quality support, a bit of respite, some good options to move on to. Here, there are two workers at a time for 300 people. On the weekends it’s just one. People are living on top of each other here, there’s been issues with violence lots of other frustrations. You don’t have to be an economist to recognise that the cost of the hotel response not affordable in the long term, and this isn’t the solution that people have imagined for themselves either.

But knowing that this is unsustainable doesn’t mean giving up on people. Knowing that it’s unsustainable should make us strive to do better, not worse. Support agencies taking leases out for private rental properties to make them affordable to people leaving hotel accommodation is actually a good idea. Combined with improved renters rights and good social, mental health and alcohol and other drug support, that is the kind of solution that could resolve homelessness long-term. The Victorian Government have announced publicly that that’s the solution they’re going with. We think they could have done better on public housing and protections for renters, but we were broadly relieved to hear that people here were safe until April.

Yet not two weeks after announcing a massive investment in social housing, they tell support agencies that funding has simply run out. They tell us the message to those we’ve been supporting for the past seven months is to “self-resolve” because not only has the funding run out, but there is still not a single extra room available for people who are unhoused. So what is it? Where is the housing they’ve promised? The promise was that “this funding will… see the Government extend current hotel accommodation until at least April next year while these 2,000 Victorians are supported to access stable, long term housing.” So why have 40 people today been told to leave, and given no suitable options?

It is not acceptable for the Andrews government to claim credit for a progressive housing and homelessness response, while the reality is sending people back to the streets.

Media contact: Jesse 0401 164 876 or email [email protected] 

The Renters And Housing Union (VIC) is a member-run Union of renters and people in precarious housing, formed out of the rent strike as a response to the COVID19 crisis. We collectively organise for the right to safe and secure housing through self-advocacy, education, and frontline eviction defence.      

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