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Thousands of rough sleepers in Australia have been moved into luxury hotels so they can effectively socially distance amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The number of hotel rooms available to individuals experiencing homelessness varies between states. In Western Australia, the “Hotels With Heart” program initially saw 23 of the state’s most at-risk people move into the five-star waterfront Pan Pacific hotel for one month.

In New South Wales, over 2,000 people have already been offered rooms in a range of high-end hotels around the state.

The scheme has seen mixed results. 

Around half the initial participants in the “Hotels With Heart” program choose to leave early — with individuals citing struggles with being quarantined, not being able to smoke when they pleased, and alcohol and drug issues, according to the ABC. 

For others, the transition from sleeping rough to a hotel room has been revelationary. 

Jon Owen, the CEO of Sydney homelessness charity Wayside Chapel, said he has spoken with many who have made the transition. One individual described the experience as the push he needed to get off the street for good. 

"I can’t go back, I just can’t,” the unnamed man told Owen, according to Wayside Chapel's Inner Circle newsletter. “I’ve spent the past two weeks in a hotel, in a bed, and I don’t think I can go back to the street. I’m going to get every piece of paperwork required; just you watch me, I’ve got this. Now, all I need from you is to help me remember, what do I need to do again?”

The scheme has prompted calls from homelessness experts and organisations for the establishment of a coordinated national response to protect all homeless individuals during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

Shane Jakupec, the regional manager of the Neami National’s Street to Home service, has called on the federal government to use this “once in a generation opportunity” to establish adequate long and short-term post-coronavirus support for all of Australia’s 116,000 homeless individuals. 

Director of the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness David Pearson echoed Jakupec’s call. 

Pearson labelled the hotel scheme inadequate but said it shows that change can occur if prioritised. He has called on state, territory and federal governments to unite to launch a national policy for health equity, housing and homelessness to foster collaboration between the industries.

"We’ve set a standard during this crisis that says, if you’re rough sleeping, we will shelter you so that you can stay safe. Why would that standard be removed when this crisis is over?” Pearson said, according to Pro Bono News.

State and territory governments have already launched a variety of economic packages to support the homeless during the pandemic. In New South Wales, $34 million AUD has been unlocked to boost homelessness services, and a $220 million package has been made available to ease pressure on renters and landlords. 

$30 million Rental Assistance Package has also been announced in Western Australia. 


Defeat Poverty

Coronavirus: Australia Moves Thousands of People Experiencing Homelessness Into Luxury Hotels

By Madeleine Keck