Coronavirus: Homeless in Australia to be moved into five-star hotels

Andy Gregory
Perth is piloting moving homeless people into hotels amid the coronavirus crisis: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Rough sleepers in Australia unable to self-isolate amid the coronavirus pandemic are to be moved into five-star hotels in a new pilot scheme.

The “Hotels With Heart” pilot will see 20 of Perth‘s most at-risk rough sleepers moved into the Pan Pacific hotel for one month.

If successful, the hotel could also be used to house victims of domestic abuse and those struggling with their mental health.

Politicians and campaigners have urged the Australian government to protect those suffering from homelessness, who are seen as particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

However, Australia’s National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project dubbed the project as it stands inadequate, with at least 200 people living on the streets of East Perth, West Perth and the city’s central business district.

Australia has introduced similar lockdown rules to the UK, although these differ between states.

There has been confusion among small business over whether they should close, with prime minister Scott Morrison reticent to introduce a full lockdown and insisting that “there’s no medical advice that they should” close.

In the UK, steps are also being taken to safeguard to the UK’s homeless population.

In what housing charities described as a landmark moment, Whitehall has asked local authorities in England to house all rough sleepers, including those in hotels and night shelters.

“We are all redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend, and we stand with you in this,” the housing ministry told homelessness managers and rough sleeping coordinators across the country on Friday.

“These are unusual times so I’m asking for an unusual effort. Many areas of the country have already been able to ‘safe harbour’ their people, which is incredible. What we need to do now though is work out how we can get ‘everyone in’.”

The government is set to allocate an additional £1.6bn to enable councils to deliver their various services during the crisis, including the provision of homeless accommodation.

Campaigners welcomed the move, but suggested it highlighted the scale to which the political will to end homelessness had been lacking until now.

“The government has committed to ending rough sleeping by 2025 – this proves it can be done in 2020 if we make it the priority it deserves to be,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis.

Up to 45,000 “self-contained accommodation spaces” are needed to house the UK’s homeless population, and a number of hotels owned by the Intercontinental Hotels Group have offered up 300 rooms for an initial trial.

Campaigners across the world have raised concerns of those without homes – living in refugee camps, on city streets or in tightly-packed slums – being unable to follow basic protections against coronavirus, such as washing their hands or maintaining safe distances from others.

And despite the government's announcement, campaigners told The Independent that a “lack of clarity” meant many were still living on the streets on Monday and were at increased risk due to the loss of support systems usually in place such as soup kitchens and food distributions.

Such a loss in the US has resulted in more than 500 people in Las Vegas being forced to sleep in a car park after a night shelter closed down, following a resident testing positive for Covid-19.

Authorities praised city officials for working quickly to set up the new “facility”, despite reports of those involved now sleeping on concrete and without tents, at the mercy of the elements.

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