In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians are being told to stay home and stay safe. But what if you don’t have a home – or your home isn’t safe?
While it’s natural to be frustrated by the measures that have been introduced to combat COVID-19, it’s also important to acknowledge that the ability to self-isolate and maintain social distancing in a safe home environment is a privilege that not everyone enjoys.
For those sleeping rough, staying home isn’t an option. And for those living with a perpetrator of domestic violence, staying home is just as dangerous a prospect as going out.
Roughly 20,000 Queenslanders experience homelessness at any one time. Without safe and secure accommodation, they are particularly vulnerable to the virus, especially if they are already living with a chronic health condition. And with the coronavirus crisis causing a surge in unemployment, housing advocates are seeing an increase in the number of people sleeping rough.
The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women, is among those organisations experiencing an increase in demand for their services.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in calls from women seeking help,” says Karen Lyon Reid, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust.
“We provide at-risk and disadvantaged women and their children with accommodation in safe and furnished units throughout Brisbane and Ipswich, but those units are all full at the moment. We’re connecting women with other services, but we’re hearing reports that they’re having trouble finding accommodation elsewhere.”
Of particular concern for The Lady Musgrave Trust are the women who find themselves faced with the ‘choice’ of staying at home with an abusive partner or leaving their home and attempting to find accommodation in the midst of a pandemic.
“Women who may already have been at risk of domestic violence are now finding themselves trapped in circumstances that exacerbate the problem,” Ms Lyon Reid says. “People are staying at home, they’re cut off from their social networks, and in many cases they’re feeling financial pressure. People are under a lot of stress, and unfortunately, we know that stress often leads to violence.
“Obviously, COVID-19 makes it much harder for these women to simply walk out of their homes and into other premises. Their options are very limited.”
Ms Lyon Reid welcomes recent moves by the Federal and State Government to address the issue, including a $5.5 million boost from the Queensland Government for domestic violence services, and a push to house at-risk women and their children in hotels and residential properties to free up capacity in shelters. But, she says, charities like The Lady Musgrave Trust are still in urgent need of support from donors.
“Our issue is fundraising,” Ms Lyon Reid says. “The reality is that, between the bushfires earlier in the year and now the coronavirus, there’s only so much money to go around, and donations to The Trust have slowed.
“We’re asking our supporters to continue to contribute to our cause financially, because their donations enable us to continue to do our work.”
Among the priorities for The Trust is a new print run of the popular Handy Guide for Homeless Women, a document designed to provide women without shelter or at risk of becoming homeless with the information they need to improve their situation, including where they can access accommodation, health services, legal assistance and employment.
“We printed 14,000 copies of the Handy Guide for Homeless Women last August, and they’re all gone already,” Ms Lyon Reid says.
“We are urgently seeking funding for an additional print run of the Handy Guide, because it’s a real tool that empowers people to improve their circumstances. Nurses hand them out in hospitals; they get distributed to employment centres; and with so many people in dire straits and scared for their future, the Handy Guide will be an essential resource for them.”
You can donate to The Lady Musgrave Trust at ladymusgravetrust.org.au/make-a-donation.
The Lady Musgrave Trust’s Handy Guide for Homeless Women is available online here.
For domestic or family violence support services, call DVConnect on 1800 811 811. Those who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness can call the Queensland Homeless Hotline on 1800 474 753.