Words by Mollie Matthews
For those sleeping rough, lockdown has made life more difficult than ever before. Businesses are closed. Public bathrooms are shut. Shelters are overflowing, with food donations and volunteer workers decreasing daily as people prioritise their own safety over helping others. Staying home, washing our hands and even social distancing are virus prevention measures we have taken for granted.
One organisation striving to combat this struggle is The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women. “Due to the pandemic, women don’t have as many choices,” says Karen Lyon Reid, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust.
After being told to ‘stay home’ for countless weeks, naturally, people are feeling cooped up. But for those who live in dangerous homes, this trapped feeling is a genuine, pressing threat. The UN Population Fund has projected that the global lockdown will result in 15 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide.
“They feel as if they have to stay in their current situation because they aren’t allowed to move due to restrictions. It’s hard for these women to research about where to go when you aren’t allowed to leave your house,” Ms Lyon Reid says.
“The intensity of these situations is beginning to ease with the easing of lockdown restrictions, but in the height of national lockdown, this issue was extremely problematic for women in those situations.”
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 42 percent of the clients of specialist homelessness services have experienced family and domestic violence, with this number expected to increase resultant of the number of reported cases.
For victims of domestic violence, many are forced to stay isolated with their abuser, causing an influx in reported cases and an increase in women seeking refuge and shelter. Unfortunately, it also means many survivors are deciding to return to their abuser, for fears that resource access is limited amid COVID-19.
“It’s more difficult for these women to live with their abusers, as people are in closer proximity with their partners and are drinking more,” Ms Lyon Reid says.
“The issue is being compounded and there’s less opportunities for these women to seek help or find places to stay – even hotels haven’t been open, so difficulty arises finding shelter and safety.”
The unemployment rate in Australia is estimated to increase to over 10 percent as a result of the pandemic. With such an increase in job loss nationwide, the potential for homelessness will be greater in many situations. Challenges for those already homeless have become more extreme, as they are exposed to more health risks, receive less help from volunteer organisations, and experience more difficulty seeking employment.
People who are homeless are more likely to contract respiratory diseases or have chronic health conditions that cause them to be susceptible to the virus. For these people who are among society’s most vulnerable, following the basic steps of virus prevention proves to be near impossible.
Properties such as those owned by The Lady Musgrave Trust help to aid people in escaping the dangers that come with sleeping rough during a global pandemic, but the resources owned by these charities aren’t capable of fully supporting the influx of people in need of their assistance while the funding remains the same as it was pre-pandemic.
“We provide accommodation to young women, so more funding to provide accommodation would allow us to assist more women,” says Ms Lyon Reid.
“As well as accommodation, we also produce our Handy Guide for Homeless Women in Brisbane. We print 16,000 physical copies of these each year, and we have already distributed all of these. More funding would mean we could have printed more of those, assisting more women in need.”
Women are most at risk of homelessness. Homeless people are the most at risk of contracting COVID-19. These intersecting vulnerabilities mean that now more than ever, people need to look past their privilege and help those who need it.