People living on the streets have been told by authorities they may no longer be allowed to sleep rough as NSW’s peak homelessness body fears the vulnerable could face police action if the state drags its heels on offers from hotels.
Homelessness NSW chief executive Katherine McKernan said many of Sydney’s homeless people were still without shelter and risking COVID-19 transmission due to a lack of co-ordination from government departments, despite hotel chains reaching out to offer their spare rooms.
And while rough sleepers are exempt from the public health order to enforce social isolation, Ms McKernan said a car window washer being fined by police at an intersection on Wednesday indicated vulnerable people could be unfairly impacted.
“A man fined for washing car windows is very concerning. People experiencing homelessness often wash car windows to earn money to survive,” Ms McKernan said.
As of last month there were more than 330 people sleeping rough in the City of Sydney area. Ms McKernan said about 30 per cent of the city’s homeless population had respiratory issues, adding to their susceptibility to coronavirus.
A Department of Communities and Justice memo said rough sleepers would now be offered one-month’s temporary accommodation as opposed to the usual five days, but also said homeless people needed to be told “it is possible that you may not be allowed to sleep rough in the near future.”
NSW Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Gareth Ward said the government committed $14.3 million to increase the supply and flexibility of temporary accommodation for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, including accommodation suitable for self-isolation.
“This additional funding will provide capacity to accommodate thousands more people, including flexibility to accommodate rough sleepers for as long as is necessary to protect them at this time,” Mr Ward said.
Ms McKernan said there were still issues with identifying the suitability of the accommodation set aside for rough sleepers, as well as the coordination between homelessness services, NSW Health and Communities and Justice about where people could be housed and what they could access.
Mr Ward said outreach teams would be conducting almost 100 patrols across the Sydney city area in the next fortnight with the aim of getting rough sleepers into accommodation.
This article first appeared in www.smh.com.au