PENINSULA Community Legal Centre has been working to address urgent housing and homelessness challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown.
CEO Jackie Galloway said Homelessness Week (2-8 August) highlighted that “everyone needs safe accommodation, including those sleeping rough, living in overcrowded conditions, such as rooming houses, or otherwise needing to self-isolate but without means to do so”.
A specialist tenancy team from the centre, which has branches at Rosebud, Frankston and Cranbourne, has been helping people maintain their tenancies during the pandemic so they do not end up on the street.
“We’ve been fielding a large number of inquiries from tenants about their rights under the COVID-19 emergency laws,” Ms Galloway said. “This is not surprising, given that a third of Victorians rent and so many people have lost their jobs.”
Emergency tenancy laws in Victoria acknowledge that many people are in financial distress and make it illegal to evict them as a result of hardship due to COVID-19, Ms Galloway said. A scheme is in place enabling tenants to negotiate rent reductions until the end of September.
The centre has joined other organisations across Victoria calling for the emergency laws to be extended.
Tenancy team head Sokha Um said: “Sometimes tenants have asked for a rent reduction but have been refused. Other tenants struggling to pay their rent have been threatened by landlords with having their names added to a database or ‘blacklist’, which is not allowed during the emergency period.”
The centre has also seen a spike in numbers rough sleeping and needing emergency food assistance. Staff have been delivering care packages to rooming houses and advising people on the street about legal assistance.
The Street Law Coffee Van has been visiting the SPLaSh laundry and showers on Rosebud foreshore and the food distribution point at Dromana community house. Over a free cup of coffee, people can receive legal advice from a lawyer and talk to a community engagement officer over related problems.
“The Street Law van and the hot barista coffee are a welcome sight for people sleeping rough on the foreshore, especially during the colder months,” Ms Galloway said.
Anyone needing free legal advice on tenancy or other general legal issues or wanting to know the Street Law Coffee van schedule, can call the Peninsula Community Legal Centre, 9783 3600. Legal advice is available over the phone throughout the lockdown.