Monday, April 22, 2024
HomeOpinionEditorialIt’s more dangerous to stay at home when you’re homeless

It’s more dangerous to stay at home when you’re homeless

Covid-19 poses a special risk to the homeless, who are often unable to self-isolate and don’t have facilities to regularly wash their hands. There is concern the virus could rapidly spread through this vulnerable population and increase the overall infection rate.

Katherine McKernan, the chief executive of Homelessness NSW, says although the NSW government has unveiled a $34-million funding package to help and house rough sleepers, the situation in Sydney remains critical.

In a statement dated March 22, the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) affirmed the essential role of specialist homelessness services – those working directly with people sleeping rough, as well as crisis refuge accommodation (for young people, people experiencing domestic and family violence, single adults) and temporary accommodation.

With the need to practise physical distancing, the number of beds available in temporary accommodation centres is likely to become scarcer as the crisis unfolds. Some local shelters have already closed.

The DCJ has since said it is working with hotels and partners to find housing for all who need it, and will cover costs of accommodating those who self-isolate because they are ill or suspect they have contracted the coronavirus ( A further, more detailed statement has been promised to the SSH (see for updates).

“People who are sleeping rough are particularly vulnerable,” says Kate Colvin, a spokesperson for the Everybody’s Home campaign, “partly because often people have chronic health conditions, but also because with a respiratory infection, sleeping somewhere cold and damp is dangerous.”

City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott says: “I have been working directly with Garth Ward (Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services) to ensure those experiencing homelessness have places to go for shelter and care.”

Meanwhile, the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross is doing all it can. Wayside’s community service centre is open Monday to Sunday, 9.30am to 1pm, to provide core services including: practical assistance with showers, emergency clothing packs, phone charging, blankets; care coordination including crisis accommodation referral, medical and Centrelink referrals, assessment for home visits; and takeaway breakfast and lunch to be served from an area outside in order to meet physical distancing requirements. Staff will continue to provide: phone outreach for people in crisis or in self-isolation, including referrals to other services and preparation of care packs; outreach services by foot and van to deliver care packs to people on the streets and yard drops to homes; and street outreach targeting key areas and known visitors.

Despite having to close its doors and cancel drop-in and face-to-face activities, Newtown Neighbourhood Centre is determined to find ways to maintain essential services: information and referrals (9564 7333); a boarding house outreach service (9509 1800); domestic and family violence support (1800 737 732).

The Junction Neighbourhood Centre (JNC) offers aged care services for all clients, assistance with shopping, a crisis services directory (, and a free texting service for anyone without phone credit (text JNC on 0447 046 046 and someone will phone you).

Staff at Counterpoint Community Services (CCS) in Waterloo and Alexandria have been contacting regular clients by phone and advocating to ensure those in need have access to emergency supplies of staples. CCS has set up a regular online drop-in mechanism for informal gatherings which can be accessed by phone (call WebEx at 9338 2218 and key in meeting number 578 319 877 followed by # and another #). You can still call the office on 9698 9569, Monday to Thursday, 9.15am to 4.15pm, or email

For Crisis Homelessness Support call Link2Home on 1800 152 152.


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