Victorian Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic

18 November 2020
Meals Program staff in PPE members handing out a takeaway meal to a client during the pandemic

Sacred Heart Mission recognises the mammoth success by the Victorian Government to suppress transmission of COVID-19. However, our 38-year experience tells us we cannot underestimate the long-term effects of the pandemic on our most vulnerable Victorians.

Our Social Policy Officer Olivia Killeen prepared our response to the Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We felt it was important to contribute to this inquiry, to highlight how the lockdown extensions, stay-at-home directions and social distancing measures have impacted on people experiencing deep disadvantage, poverty, and homelessness.

The Stage 4 restrictions implemented in August 2020, particularly the curfew times and 5km radius boundary impacted on everyone’s mental health and wellbeing. Yet people from disadvantaged backgrounds experienced this differently and more significantly: from minimal access to goods and services near their home or cash flow to afford groceries or a place of refuge.

Widening social and economic inequalities

COVID-19 has widened social and economic inequalities – and we must address this, especially now, as Victoria slowly reopens.

As JobKeeper payments, and higher JobSeeker rates are wound back, we expect skyrocketing demand for social housing and homelessness services.

Our regular clients have found it challenging and unsettling to receive takeaway meals from Sacred Heart Mission instead of inside the Dining Hall, and physically distancing themselves from other community members and friends; and remote case management services are more challenging, for both clients and staff.

Clients are increasingly experiencing poor mental health and wellbeing or dealing with increased alcohol and other substance use and domestic violence. Home is not a safe pl­­­­­­­ace for many: the pandemic has made a volatile environment worse and created extra barriers preventing escape.

A punitive approach is likely to instill fear

We’ve also been concerned by the punitive approach to enforcement; issuing substantial and unreasonable fines to people who are seen to be disobeying public health restrictions, many of whom are disadvantaged and vulnerable; as reported by community legal services.

We believe this approach is more likely to instill a fear of the police and authority figures, and cause rifts in the community, rather than acting as a deterrent; and are not always proportionate to the offences or in line with community expectations of public safety.

Multi-million package to address homelessness

We support the Victorian Government’s efforts to support people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage during the pandemic, including the $150 million package to address homelessness during COVID-19 and beyond.

This follows the announcement of $15 million to homelessness organisations to find temporary housing in hotels for people sleeping rough on Melbourne’s streets; and Sacred Heart Mission staff have been active in providing the support needed to transition into stable housing.

Sacred Heart Mission has also shared in $8.8 million in funding from the State Government to run a COVID-19 Isolation and Recovery Facility for people experiencing homelessness to self-isolate, quarantine and recover from the virus.

We thank the Victorian Government for listening to our calls and delivering a monumental $5.3 billion investment into social and affordable housing across the state, by building 12,000 dwellings within four years. This is a substantial and rapid increase, providing security and stability for thousands of Victorians experiencing homelessness and disadvantage and much-needed jobs.

Click here to read our complete submission to the Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.