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In the COVID-19 edition of our 'Be heard!' newsletter, we take a look at how many members of our local community have faced unexpected housing adversity as a result of the pandemic and how IMCL mobilised to respond.
For all of us, COVID-19 has rewritten many aspects of life and the legal sector has not been immune. While the pandemic has challenged the way we operate and exposed weaknesses in the justice system, it has also fast tracked legal innovation by forcing courts and legal services to find practical solutions, quickly.

Since March, we too have been finding new ways of working to adapt to the restricted service delivery environment and respond to emerging legal need. To learn more about what we have seen and done, you can read our profile on the Federation of Community Legal Centres website.
PUBLIC HOUSING LOCKDOWNS
We were alarmed by the paternalistic and enforcement first response that the Victorian Government adopted by imposing a hard lockdown on public housing residents in North Melbourne and Flemington on Saturday 4 July.

As soon as the lockdown was announced, we consulted with other legal experts to assess the lawfulness of the heavy-handed intervention and quickly established channels of communication with residents, as well as with the community organisations and volunteers that worked around the clock to support them. We listened to their needs and responded through 24/7 helplines, a physical presence at the towers, information provision to clarify rights and responsibilities, advocacy with government departments to secure individual and systemic outcomes, as well as media engagement to raise awareness of the issues being experienced. On our website, you can read our media statements.

Throughout the lockdown, we outlined our concerns to the Victorian Ombudsman and made a submission to the urgent investigation into the treatment of public housing tenants at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne. We await the recommendations and once announced, we will assess the findings with other human rights organisations and continue to work closely with the community to ensure their voices guide the response. 

You can keep up-to-date with our advocacy and information for residents by following our Facebook and Twitter accounts, or  by visiting our website
THE VOICES OF OUR CLIENTS
Public housing residents are not the only tenants who have experienced hardship during the COVID-19 restrictions. For people in private rentals, like Linh and Carolina, the Melbourne lockdown meant that on top of the stress of losing their job in the middle of a global health crisis, they were also facing eviction.

Read more about how we helped to challenge Linh and Carolina's uncompromising landlords. 
ADVOCATING TO PROTECT TENANTS DURING COVID-19
With more than 60% of dwellings in our catchment area occupied by private renters, we knew that rapid legislative change was needed to protect scores of our community members like Linh and Carolina who were made vulnerable by the pandemic, and prevent a tidal wave of homelessness.

With a range of legal and social services, since March we've been working behind the scenes advocating to the state government for legal and policy changes that better protect tenants experiencing financial distress. The combined efforts of the sectors helped to secure important provisions in the new emergency laws, including the eviction moratorium.

Although the changes recognise the importance of secure housing as fundamental to responding to the public health crisis, the power imbalance between tenants and the unwillingness of landlords to negotiate has been identified as a barrier to proper implementation.

Knowing this, we continue to makes sure the voices of our clients are heard in advocating for greater awareness, improvements to the scheme, and the provision of legal representation so the processes are fair and equitable for everyone.  

Read more about the changes we contributed to and our ongoing tenancy and fines advocacy during COVID-19.
SUPPORTING INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS TO KNOW THEIR RIGHTS
Carolina's story reveals the vulnerability of international students to experiencing housing and other legal issues, particularly during COVID-19.

To help more students like her, we've been keeping our scenario-based international student legal information resource ishelp.org.au up-to-date with COVID-19 specific information and pathways to help. We also recently co-hosted a Law Week webinar with WEstjustice on essential housing, safety and employment rights during the pandemic. You can view the webinar or read the transcript on our website
LOOKING FORWARD
We know that the easing of restrictions does not mean that our way of life will return as it was or that problems caused by COVID-19 will be easily resolved. Indeed, the worst may be yet to come. In coming months, the termination of temporary government financial support and rental protections will reveal the full impact of the pandemic on legal need. 

We remain focussed on strengthening the capabilities of our legal service delivery and advocating for necessary changes to the law to ensure those most disadvantaged by the pandemic don't fall even further behind.

SUPPORT US 

You can help us provide legal help and resource us to continue our advocacy for people experiencing disadvantage due to COVID-19 hereYou can donate online or email us at donate@imcl.org.au for a donation form or to be called back to make a phone donation.
Stay tuned for our next instalment! You can read our previous editions here. 
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Inner Melbourne Community Legal Centre
2/508 Queensberry St
North Melbourne, Victoria 3051
Australia

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