The Australian Newspaper// Feature Story

Article published: 14th April 2020


Coronavirus: Rough sleepers swap streets for warm beds

The coronavirus has delivered to street-sleeping Aboriginal people a roof over their head  many have lacked for years. And it’s a four or five-star hotel experience.

The need to get 1000 rough sleepers off the streets of Perth has led to “community VIPS” checking in to star-rated hotels left with empty rooms.

In Fremantle, Beatrice Christian has moved into the 4.5-star Hougoumont Hotel as part of a hastily organised bid to house 40 people, the $25,000 weekly bill  underwritten by donations to a Catholic charity.
“It’s like a heavenly pillow to know that nobody can walk through that door” says Ms Christian, 51, who has lived on the street for a decade. A stable home evaporated when her husband became violent and she fled with her teenage son. He now has a roof over his head, in prison.

“ I don’t come out of my room except for shopping” says Ms Christian, who says clean sheets and a shower are also “heavenly”. “It’s enabled me to get my medical needs assessed. My mental health is better and I can settle down and make a plan to move forward in my life”.

Pan Pacific manager Rob Weeden says the lack of problems has been remarkable “ given that we have some of the most vulnerable people in town”.
He says while none of his guests has tested positive for COVID-19, some patrons have drug and alcohol issues. “We do allow a glass of wine of a can of beer because you can’t expect people to go cold turkey”.
Preventing street sleepers from catching and spreading coronavirus is a major aim, but it also can be cheaper than the high cost of homelessness.

University of Western Australia social housing expert Lisa Wood says in the three months before one chronically ill man became a hotel patron, he had made 20 visits to emergency departments and spent 44 days in hospital, costing $145,000.
The Victorian government announced on Friday that $8.8 M has been set aside for homeless people to move into repurposed age care sites. More than 200 rough sleepers are expected to go through the inner-Melbourne sites over the next 6 months.

In South  Australia, a “By Name” list of every homeless person is being used to match their need with available housing.
In NSW, the Berejiklian government is pending $34 M to provide temporary accommodation and additional capacity for people needing to self isolate due to COVID-19.