The COVID-19 pandemic presents a number of urgent housing and homelessness challenges, which the Peninsula Community Legal Centre has been working hard to address. “Homelessness Week highlights that everyone needs safe accommodation, including people who are sleeping rough, living in over-crowded conditions such as rooming houses, or otherwise needing to self-isolate but without means to do so” said Jackie Galloway, the CEO.
The Centre, which has branches at Rosebud, Frankston, Bentleigh and Cranbourne, has a specialist tenancy team which has been helping people to maintain their tenancies during the COVID-19 crisis so that they do not end up on the streets despite losing their income.
“We’ve been fielding a large number of enquiries from tenants about their rights under the COVID-19 emergency laws,’ said Ms Galloway. “This is not surprising, given that a third of Victorians rent and so many people have lost their jobs”.
The emergency tenancy laws in Victoria acknowledge that many people are in financial distress and make it illegal to evict people as a result of hardship due to COVID-19. They establish a scheme to enable people to negotiate rent reductions until the end of September. PCLC has joined other organisations across Victoria calling for the emergency laws to be extended.
“Our team has assisted many clients in negotiating rent reduction agreements with their landlords over the past few months,” said Sokha Um, the head of PCLC’s tenancy team. “Sometimes tenants have asked for a rent reduction but have been refused. Other tenants struggling to pay their rent have been threatened by landlords to put their names on a tenancy database or ‘blacklist’, which is not allowed during the emergency period.”
The Centre has also seen a spike in the number of people who have been sleeping rough or who need emergency food assistance during COVID-19. Centre staff have been going out to rooming houses delivering care packages and onto the street to provide legal assistance.
Their Street Law Coffee Van, which is run in partnership with Social Engine, has been visiting venues such as the SPLaSh laundry and showers on the Rosebud foreshore and the food distribution point at the Dromana community house. Over a free cup of coffee, people can have a chat with a lawyer and a community engagement officer to receive legal advice and support with their related problems.
The Street Law van and the hot barista coffee are a welcome sight for people who are sleeping rough on the foreshore, especially during the colder months.
Anyone needing free legal advice on tenancy or other general legal issues, or to find out about the Street Law Coffee van schedule, can contact the Peninsula Community Legal Centre on 9783 3600. The Centre continues to provide legal advice over the telephone throughout the lockdown.
DATE: 31 July 2020
CONTACT: Kirsten Young, Community Engagement Officer – Peninsula Community Legal Centre Inc.