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Lockdown trouble for people sleeping rough in Brisbane, services growing scarcer

Roby Curtis: “We’re seeing new faces and they’re all relying on that meal.”

EVERYTHING from food services to public showers were growing scarce for Brisbane’s homeless population under increasing restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Emmanuel City Mission director Roby Curtis said their operations had reduced to comply with state and federal restrictions, but they were committed to “meet the need”.

The South Brisbane homelessness centre had reduced its hours and turned its meals into take-away.

Mr Curtis said the mission could only feed two people at a time, and only outside on the curb which he said, “wasn’t us”.

“That’s not who we are, we’re a warm, homely environment and they’re sitting out the front in the exposed elements just waiting for the queue to die so you can get your next cup of coffee to go again,” he said.

“We’re just going, ‘What can we do?’

“All the services have changed, everything’s less available.

“The weekly rhythm people are familiar with is not happening.

“We’re seeing new faces and they’re all relying on that meal.”

And while new faces were showing up, Mr Curtis did not anticipate a stark rise in homelessness from pandemic-led economic strife.

“It’s in the interest of the nation to keep people in their rental,” he said.

“We’re fortunate to have the welfare we do in this country; (the government is) trying to provide relief to businesses, to households.”

But that welfare support also had drawbacks.

“It’s tricky with mental health; substance use and abuse is where you have fragility,” Mr Curtis said.

Each person on Newstart was receiving an extra $750 into their account and Mr Curtis said, “people aren’t going to use that money appropriately in my opinion”.

He said an injection of funds, more than the regular amount, was going to entice substance users and abusers.

“Some will do the right thing,” he said, “but many will just use it.”

And until a shutdown compelled the service to shut, Mr Curtis said Emmanuel City Mission would continue its commitment to serve the poor.

“That taps into a deeper level of my purpose of life than just professionalism, that taps into the prophetic, which is wanting to be where the church would stand in those gaps when there was pandemic and epidemic and there was crisis,” he said.

“Just go, ‘No, we were there, our people were there, we were at the coal face and in the space of adversity’.

“We’re walking a fine line of compliance but you know what, it’s worth it to be following in the Good News of Jesus at such a critical time.”

He said he does not know what was going to happen to rough sleeping people but that he hoped those who had the influence at the macro level operated quickly and channelled their funding and resources quickly.

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