Governments housed the homeless in hotels during lockdowns – but now many are sleeping back

Written by Javed Iqbal

Under the awning of a hotel in Sydney’s Kings Cross, Chris Thomson is awakened from a cold night’s sleep by staff preparing for al fresco dining.

His swag and two scattered cardboard boxes are far from the hotel suite he lived in for nine months in the early days of the pandemic.

Nor is it the life he imagined for himself when he was growing up.

“I certainly did not want to live on the street in the cross,” he said.

“I did not reach for it.”

Thomson – Taz to his friends – is one of 1,500 hard sleepers in New South Wales who were offered emergency accommodation during lockdowns in 2020.

A man in blue jeans and a leather jacket is sitting on concrete outside
Chris Thomson says hotel accommodation gave him more stability earlier in the pandemic.(ABC News: Mary Lloyd)

“I got used to sleeping inside again, and yes, it was great,” he said.

“In the first week, because it just did not feel right, I slept on the floor and watched television.

The former truck driver had two houses to his name more than ten years ago.

He then committed a violent crime during a night of drinking and landed in jail.

Everything worked out from there.

A man with a hat and a jacket is sitting at an outdoor table looking at the camera
Chris Thomson had two houses to his name before his life took a turn.(ABC News: Mary Lloyd)

What a difference a pandemic makes

When the pandemic first hit and there was a need for lockdowns, things suddenly changed for people who slept poorly or without stable housing.

To help them isolate and maintain public health orders, several states made accommodation available in vacant hotels, while others provided support to people at risk of becoming homeless.

As lockdowns were lifted, governments had to figure out where all these people would go.

In New South Wales, where current Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet wants to halve homelessness by 2025, the government has put $ 122 million into the Together Home program.

About the author

Javed Iqbal

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