A growing number of rough sleepers in Canberra could soon be housed in vacant hotels and motels as advocates push for more support amid the coronavirus crisis.
The ACT government has been criticised for failing to provide any significant new funding for street homelessness in its stimulus packages so far.
ACT Shelter chief executive officer Travis Gilbert said it was critical all rough sleepers were offered accommodation immediately, and was surprised the government was yet to act.
The ACT Greens say the government must house all rough sleepers, while the opposition says it raised concerns with the government about a lack of action weeks ago.
When asked about the government's street homelessness investment, housing minister Yvette Berry said an announcement would be made on Monday which would boost capacity for hotels to house rough sleepers. The details of the announcement were not revealed.
ACT Shelter said it knew of at least 65 people sleeping on the streets or in cars who were in contact with services but said the total number of rough sleepers was likely much greater.
Mr Gilbert said those people would be at increased risk of complications if they contracted COVID-19, as many already dealt with compromised immune systems.
He first raised concerns with the government about four weeks ago, and has written to both Ms Berry and Chief Minister Andrew Barr urging action.
Mr Gilbert said vacant hotels and motels seemed to be the most immediate solution.
"We are really worried, flu season is just around the corner," he said.
"We've got a small window to get people off the streets by May.
"I'd hold grave fears in winter for people."
ACT Greens housing spokeswoman Caroline Le Couteur said the party wanted the government to immediately house all rough sleepers.
"The Greens believe we all need a safe and secure place to live," she said.
Community sector advocate and Greens candidate Rebecca Vassarotti said those experiencing homelessness were particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.
"It's completely inconsistent to be telling people to stay inside to prevent the spread of the disease when not everyone has a house to isolate in," she said.
"At a time of unprecedented crisis, it is entirely possible to provide housing for each and every one of these more vulnerable people in our community."
Opposition leader Alistair Coe said he first raised the issue with the government many weeks ago.
"We haven't been satisfied with the government's response and still hold concerns for vulnerable Canberrans who are living on the street," he said.
"That's why I have written to the Australian Hotels Association to see whether there are hotels in the ACT that are in a position to help. I have been very encouraged to see major hotels in other states generously helping rough sleepers, giving these guests food and a bed to sleep on."
Ms Berry said the government would be boosting its temporary accommodation capacity and was considering the use of hotels.
"The ACT government has been working closely with the specialist homelessness services sector to identify where extra support is required as we respond to COVID-19," she said.
"Additional investment to be made to support these services will be announced on Monday."
She said the government already provided some temporary accommodation.
"The ACT government has been working closely with CatholicCare and St Vincent de Paul to fast track the Axial Housing program that was already under way to support people facing chronic homelessness into housing," Ms Berry said.
"This program has begun and has successfully housed 10 rough sleepers to date with more work happening."
Our COVID-19 news articles relating to public health and safety are free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. If you're looking to stay up to date on COVID-19, you can also sign up for our twice-daily digest here.