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Pressure on, pandemic protections to be withdrawn

PORTLAND’S Salvation Army is bracing for a challenging year after two protective measures against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are removed at the end of this month.

The $150 a fortnight coronavirus supplement for people on income support payments such as JobSeeker, the Youth Allowance and Parenting Payment will end on March 31, and a moratorium on rental increases and evictions expires on March 28.

JobKeeper payments for employed people will also end on March 28.

Salvation Army Lieutenant Peter Stamp said cuts to payments a few months ago had seen additional people seeking their support for basics such as food, with more regular assistance required, and he believes people on JobSeeker will be most impacted.

“Most people (visiting) lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and are still in a place of unemployment,” he said.

With a drop in income and the prospect of increased rental costs in an already exceedingly tight rental market, some people could lose their homes, he added.

“When you’re paying $400 week for rent, you have kids at school, are paying bills and are trying to get back into the workforce the dollar only stretches so far.

“Some people are paying up to $500 a week for rental properties that elsewhere might be $200 a week: it works off that supply and demand unfortunately.

“People don’t eat, don’t give their kids lunches for school or they reach out for support which is what a lot of people have been doing.”

The base JobSeeker payment was recently increased by $50 a fortnight (and will be paid from next month), however the Salvation Army’s national social services chief Lyn Edge said the increase “does not even begin to address the depths of disadvantage in Australia.”

“Before COVID, we worked with people who had less than $17 a day left after they had paid for housing.

“There needs to be a substantial increase to the base rate of the JobSeeker as well as broader reform to actually support people to move back into work.

“Those who are newly unemployed have not yet experienced the old base rate of JobSeeker. So far, the newly unemployed tourism worker or restaurant manager has been spared the indignity of having to choose between buying groceries or paying for electricity.”

Lindsay Stow is the Salvation Army Homelessness service’s manager for the region and is based in Warrnambool.

He said a Homelessness to a Home program being slowly rolled out by the state government may only transition one to two Portland people into medium-term accommodation after they lived in funding-supported caravan parks or motel accommodation during the peak of the pandemic.

He is more hopeful that additional housing stock can be built to help resolve the issue longer-term.

The Big Housing Build announced by the state government in November could see state and local governments work together to create more affordable accommodation.

Affordable community housing operated by not-for-profit organisations and could also assist.

“There’s a lot of community housing that’s been established in larger urban areas but there’s not a whole lot of community housing in the south-west,” he said, adding that the largest community housing base for the region is probably in Warrnambool.

“It’s a question of financial viability - being able to build enough accommodation.

“If we could attract more social hosing in terms of community housing that would be a great bonus.”

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