The lawyers acting for the most vulnerable people in Canberra say they are stretched to breaking point by the epidemic and now face a drop in funding.
Canberra Community Law is the only free service for people in housing difficulties in the ACT but it faces a shortfall of $500,000 in the financial year which begins in just over a month.
Funding rose to address the worst of the epidemic but it's about to fall - while the problems continue.
"We are under the pump," said the centre's director and principle solicitor, Genevieve Bolton.
When the epidemic moved into full swing a year ago, demand for the centre's legal services spiked - but the demand hasn't fallen as the epidemic has eased.
A moratorium on Centrelink debt collection has ended, for example, and that is presenting new demands on lawyers.
"Ending JobKeeper will result in more people at risk of homelessness and needing assistance to access housing. More people will be dealing with Centrelink for the first time and will require assistance to navigate a complex system," Ms Bolton said.
The short-term extra money ends on June 30 but, as the centre puts it, "our communities continue to face profound impacts from the pandemic and many needs for community legal assistance continue at an elevated level".
The centre's total income, primarily from the ACT and Commonwealth governments, for this financial year is about $2.3 million, Ms Bolton said. But that will drop by about $500,000 in the new financial year. The shortfall means the loss of four solicitors' positions at a time when demand is undiminished.
"The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the ACT's economic and social landscape. The rise in unemployment, mental health issues and family violence has had a profound impact," Ms Bolton said.
Part of the difficulty is that the pandemic increased the demand for housing as, for example, women fled from violent men. But the spike in demand for public housing at that time means a shortage of public housing now.
"Canberra Community Law is experiencing the anticipated increase in volume and complexity of legal matters as normal activities resume and governments reduce Covid-related support measures," the centre's appeal to the ACT government says.
"Financial hardship, affordable housing and family violence remain serious issues. The lack of crisis accommodation, social housing and low-income private rentals in the ACT is particularly acute and the end of JobKeeper on 28 March, 2021 has seen some people access the Centrelink system for the first time.
"Canberra Community Law is also seeing people with disability seeking employment discrimination advice around flexible working arrangements to accommodate their disability as restrictions ease."
The ongoing effects of the epidemic affect people in many ways, Ms Bolton said, including social isolation and mental and physical health difficulties.
Heightened problems now lead to a difficulty to gain work in the future with more difficulties as a result.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: