The NSW Department of Communities and Justice allocated $6.25 million during the lockdown to fund accommodation and other costs for these temporary visa holders. A new policy says it is the government’s expectation that emergency housing will be provided regardless of residency status.
The housing program was “humane” and “the right thing to do,” lord mayor Clover Moore told the Herald. “We know some people are using a kettle for the first time or having their first bath in years,” said Ms Moore. “What is vital now is making sure these people have somewhere safe and appropriate to live when the lockdown ends – pathways to housing. We cannot have a situation where our most vulnerable residents return to the street without support.”
Ms Moore said she would continue to lobby the federal government and the NSW Parliament for ongoing support for non-residents to get them off the streets.
Most homeless people were placed in temporary accommodation during Sydney’s two lockdowns. But other than some New Zealand non-resident visitors, most non-residents didn’t receive any government emergency housing last year, said Erin Longbottom, the nursing unit manager of the St Vincent’s homeless service.
She described them as a “really invisible” group of people.
The hotel where they are staying isn’t flash. But for many, it is the first time they have had a room of their own, a kitchen and a bathroom. When the 20 non-residents moved in, there were many bubble baths and tears.
Ms Longbottom said people were very emotional. “It demonstrated that Australia cared, ‘that ‘Someone does give a shit about me’.”
Ms Rullis said Cyril’s case was not unusual. “There are a lot of people in limbo, the majority have been living with no identifiable pathway for a very long time.”
Cyril’s case – which includes appeals dating back to 2010 when he arrived by plane seeking asylum – was far from rare. That put a huge mental and emotional strain on the non-residents.
The decision by the NSW government to fund accommodation during the lockdown, and provide other government services, and open specialist homelessness services to non-residents in the future, was a first for the government sector. Many non-profit groups had been providing support.
Cyril said he was without hope at the beginning of this year’s Sydney lockdown.
His bridging visa had been extended again, his application for Medicare rejected, and he was unable to work because of serious issues with his balance. After receiving free medical care from St Vincent’s and being placed in the new housing, he said he found hope.
“I feel like I am not alone. Before I didn’t have anyone to contact me, or provide me food or support. There is now a lot of meaning in my life. It gives me hope, and that is really overwhelming, unimaginable for a person like me.”
He is so careful of his new premises that he doesn’t want to cook in case the fire alarms go off. For now, he is satisfied with the microwave.
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