“For a moment I relaxed,” said Painter, who was homeless for almost three years before the pandemic.
But on November 19 Painter received a text message from her housing support worker saying that funding was ending for her accommodation, and the worker wanted to chat to her about her options.
The support worker asked if Painter would accept a property in the city. “It was horrendous,” Painter said.
“You could smell the ice in the room. I worked long and hard to give that shit up, I don’t want to go backwards.”
Painter said she knows she can’t live at Birches forever, much as she would love to. “All I want is safe housing. I don’t need a flat with fancy shit. I want to be safe and to be able to heal and do something with what’s left of my life”.
Painter is one of a number of homeless people being told to exit their hotels and move to alternative accommodation, including rooming houses, crisis accommodation, public and community housing and affordable private rentals.
“There may be a perception that emergency accommodation is available for all people in emergency accommodation until April 2021,” said a document distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services seen by The Age.
“However, this funding is part of a package designed to support people to exit hotel accommodation, not to sustain all tenancies until this date.”
The document said funding for emergency accommodation in hotels would not continue if a homeless person refused an offer of “suitable alternate accommodation”.
However, some housing support workers say the alternative housing on offer is not always suitable.
“I’ve got lots of clients put in a situation where they had to go back to (family violence) perpetrators or sleep rough or go to unsuitable accommodation that takes up their entire payments,” said housing support worker Adriana Mackay.
On Monday, Ms Mackay attended a snap protest held by the Renters and Housing Union outside the Ibis Styles Kingsgate Hotel, where the union said about 40 homeless people had been told they had to exit.
The union called on the government to continue funding hotel emergency accommodation for those waiting for housing, especially in circumstances where rooming houses were unsuitable or not available when their “exit date” arrived.
A Victorian government spokesperson said Homes Victoria was working closely with a number of homelessness organisations to identify suitable housing options to transition people out of temporary hotel accommodation.
The spokesperson said this included the roll out of the government’s $150 million From Homelessness to a Home program that included head leasing (a model that assists disadvantaged households access private rental housing) for 1100 properties.
“Options for people leaving temporary hotel accommodation can include rooming houses, private rental and emergency accommodation. If appropriate alternative accommodation options are rejected, then homelessness organisations may not be able to continue to provide hotel accommodation,” the spokesperson said.
Bevan Warner, the CEO of Launch Housing, which is funded by the government to provide housing and homelessness support services, said his organisation has had to adjust as restrictions eased and the health crisis subsided.
“We have needed to pivot back to business as usual funding limits in place before the pandemic,” Mr Warner said.
“We haven’t enjoyed the rationing exercise, but we have to get to April without more people in hotels than we can pay the bills for.”
Mr Warner said in the past few weeks that Launch Housing had got 150 people out of hotel accommodation. “The vast majority have been really good outcomes where people have voluntarily moved into private rental or back into rooming houses,” Mr Warner said.
But he said for some it was confronting. “It’s difficult for staff to have these conversations, which have been suspended for five to six months.”
Mr Warner said the government had taken too long to move on the From Homelessness to a Home package, with Launch Housing yet to hear whether it had won a tender to support clients to access accommodation and other support services.
“The housing and support packages can’t come fast enough,” Mr Warner said.
Monica Harte, a worker from the St Kilda Crisis Centre, said vulnerable people were being exited from hotels. “We have now become the eviction centre,” she said. “We offer people a meal because we can’t offer anything else. We don’t have other crisis accommodation to put people in.”
Ms Kerr, the owner of Birches serviced apartments, said she had tried to keep Painter for as long as possible but was told the funding expired in two weeks.
“She’s come leaps and bounds since she has been here, she’s really fought hard to overcome her demons,” Ms Kerr said
Ms Kerr said she would like to see Painter get a home of her own. “She doesn’t want to go where there are drugs, she said she would just end up back where she started.”
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Jewel Topsfield is social affairs editor at The Age. She has worked in Melbourne, Canberra and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. She has won multiple awards including a Walkley and the Lowy Institute Media Award.