#MelbourneZero: an achievable end to homelessness

Originally written and published by Bevan Warner on LinkedIn.

Victoria’s response to the Covid-19 threat has had one clear intended consequence, nearly 1000 rough sleepers are no longer on the streets or in cars but are now living in temporary motel and hotel rooms in inner Melbourne.

The initial response from the Victorian Government to quickly move people into emergency accommodation was the right one.

Designed to slow the virus, it reminds us that our own health is intimately connected to the health of the person next to us, and that everyone needs shelter.

The question that now arises is how do we stop a homeless population that was once dispersed and is now concentrated in motels and hotels from exiting back into homelessness?

Seventy two per cent of the near one thousand individuals Launch Housing is currently assisting had been sleeping rough, living on trains, in cars or squatting and had high housing needs. All of them victims of trauma or lacking family support.

We have faces, names, histories, phone numbers a temporary address and means of contact.

We have these people in our grasp and a never before opportunity to make a permanent dent in the rising rate of homelessness in Melbourne.

All we need is the promise of a home.

Although it is cheaper for the taxpayer to provide a home than it is to bear the cost of emergency ward presentations and to police homelessness, we know people are cynical about whether homelessness can in fact, be ended.

This cynicism is well founded but wrong. People don’t choose homelessness, it finds them.

Over past months we’ve heard the phrase ‘flatten the curve’. There’s a new phrase we should get comfortable with: ‘Melbourne Zero’.

Regrettably through episodes of trauma or simply bad luck, there will always be people entering homelessness. But if the number who exit into safe and secure housing exceeds the number of new entrants to the homeless service system, then we reach Melbourne Zero. This is how you end homelessness.

Any experience of homelessness should be short and not repeated.

Melbourne is an international city of considerable reputation. We should put that reputation to the test and start applying global best practice and seize this opportunity to provide everyone in emergency accommodation with a home and support.

A measurable and visible reduction in street homelessness in Melbourne is achievable and would bolster a sense of pride in our City as a global leader for liveability. Melbourne Zero could be the catch cry of our post pandemic ‘new normal’.

To get there, we need more and better social housing.

Property developers, building unions and economists are in splendid agreement that we need a building led economic recovery that includes more social housing. So, let’s reverse the rate of homelessness at the same time.

Public spending is contested. But, right now, sparking an economic recovery and reversing the rate of homelessness go hand in hand. Let’s do it.

Everyone housed: no homelessness.

Let’s give the one thousand people we have in our grasp something to work towards, the promise of a home. Share, if you agree.

Bevan Warner is Launch Housing’s Chief Executive Officer with past roles in community development and indigenous affairs and Managing Director and Board member of Victoria Legal Aid.