Down but not out
It’s 4pm on Sunday, January 23 and it’s still over 30 degrees, probably more on the CBD’s bitumen streets.
The sun beats down on the Central City Community Health Service on Victoria St.
A man has found a shadowy nook and is sleeping on the pavement outside the door.
His bike is propped up next to him. A small sack is his headrest. Above him is a sign saying “Welcome”.
It’s possible that the man is suffering from COVID but due to the impact of the virus, the clinic had moved for the weekend to West Melbourne.
And on the Friday before, it had closed early because of the heat.
Those sleeping rough in the CBD can still access services but it’s getting more difficult to help them.
“Our work has still continued full speed, the volume of work,” says social worker Ado Barker, who like many in the sector has once again retreated to the safety of working remotely from his home in Coburg.
“We’re champing at the bit to be out there,” he said. “It’s been really hard for anyone doing direct work with the loss of face-to-face.”
Ado began working with Justice Connect in Bourke St last April as the homeless persons liaison officer and works one day a week at an outreach partnership with Cohealth Central City on Victoria St.
He’s never experienced the city running at its full capacity. “It’s a shadow of its former self,” he said.
“The CBD is definitely a difficult place to be homeless,” he said. “At the end of the hotel emergency response, when it started to wind down during last year, people came back. Part of that is a sense of safety and security in places people know.”
He said as a social worker it was really important to feel that, even in small ways, you were making a difference.
Justice Connect runs a state-wide homeless law program that offers an integrated practice with both social workers and lawyers helping resolve legal problems faced by rough sleepers.
During mid-January Ado had an issue with a client in a rooming house who came down with COVID but had no capacity to isolate. He said services are struggling to manage the spread.
“He went to a GP with symptoms and had a RAT and PCR test. It’s hard for people to negotiate the system. I was able to refer the client to a triage service run by Quarantine Victoria and they secured hotel quarantine.”
He is a big rap for the walk-in services of the Victoria St clinic.
“If he could have accessed Cohealth he would have received a good wrap-around response.”
He said the secret to being a good social worker is “listening and hearing”.
The liaison position was established by Justice Connect in 2010, and since then has assisted more than 1300 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness •