CENTRAL Victorian agencies fear they will be overwhelmed with demand from people in housing crisis once COVID-19 supports start tapering off.
Leaders from seven organisations highlighted an urgent need for social housing as they braced for a "tidal wave of distress in the community" in the next six months.
Several said they were already providing many more services than they were funded to deliver, particularly those responding to family and domestic violence.
Their calls for action coincided with Homelessness Week, which ends today.
Haven; Home, Safe chief executive Ken Marchingo was bracing for economic conditions comparable with those of the late '70s and early '80s.
He said the number of people seeking homelessness support while on Newstart - now JobSeeker - rose by 75 per cent in the past six years.
"What's going to happen when they go back... to $40 a day, when it's not just those people who were unemployed pre-COVID?" Mr Marchingo said.
The official unemployment rate is expected to grow to almost 10 per cent in the December quarter.
The effective unemployment rate will be higher still.
"Forget about any level of affordability in the private rental markets, they will be snowed," Mr Marchingo said.
Story continues below homelessness map
Access to affordable rental housing was already problematic in parts of the region before COVID-19.
Bendigo ranked among the top 20 federal electorates in Victoria with the highest unmet social housing needs.
Almost 3000 more social housing properties are needed in Bendigo.
Anglicare Victoria regional director Francis Lynch said rental vacancy rates in Bendigo and Echuca remained "incredibly low".
Castlemaine's rental market was already among the most expensive in regional Victoria, CHIRP Community Health chief executive Dianne Couch said.
Renting in the Macedon Ranges was also costly, Cobaw Community Health chief executive Margaret McDonald said, and there was limited social housing.
Mr Marchingo expected an outflow from metropolitan Melbourne into regional areas as hundreds of thousands of mortgages teetered on the brink of collapse and "God knows how many" renters contended with reduced wages.
He believed areas like Bendigo could be at risk of demand outstripping not only the supply of available land for new builds, but houses to sell.
"I fear our current federal government does not understand what is coming at them," he said.
The homelessness sector "doesn't have many irons left in what will soon be a bushfire", according to Mr Marchingo.
Demand has increased across Haven's intake points in the past financial year.
More than 3500 people have presented to Haven's central Victorian intakes, 75 per cent of whom were in housing crisis.
Haven chief operations officer Trudi Ray said there was a lack of housing, including emergency accommodation.
Story continues below webinar recording
Wayne Redfern is experiencing homelessness at a time when people are being ordered to stay home to protect public health.
With nowhere else to go, the 52-year-old spends his time on the streets of Bendigo.
"I've got a mask, but that's about it," Mr Redfern says.
"What else can you do?"
He has a place to sleep, courtesy of the Winter Night Shelter.
Mr Redfern is not sure what will happen after winter. He hopes to find a place to rent.
"It's so hard to get accommodation over here," he says.
Mr Lynch said Anglicare knew how hard it could be.
Workers were advocating for young people in need of housing, who were receiving ongoing supports.
"It still doesn't get them over the line," Mr Lynch said.
He was concerned about what was going to happen when JobSeeker and JobSeeker payments started reducing.
"There are a whole lot of families out there who were employed and have now found themselves on these government benefits," Mr Lynch said.
"They're not going to find work easily in the next six to 12 months and a whole lot of people who were highly committed financially and have been scraping along... are going to hit the wall."
He feared Anglicare's financial counselling programs would be overrun.
"We're gearing up right now because we expect a tidal wave of distress in the community that's going to be hitting us - all of us - over the next six months, and housing is going to be one of the most vulnerable parts," Mr Lynch said.
Housing Justice manager Kirsty Waller's big concern was what was going to happen when the moratorium on rental evictions lifted.
"We predict a tsunami of people homeless who cannot afford their rents," she said.
"We've been saying it for years and years - there's not enough housing, particularly affordable housing.
"We're hoping this will prompt governments to sit down and have a really serious talk about what they need to do to support people."
Almost 60 people sought help from Cobaw Community Health in one day last week, 17 of whom were under the age of 25.
Many of the clients were women.
"We constantly exceed the projected work of our small team, year on year," Ms McDonald said.
The Centre for Non-Violence provided more than double the services it was funded to across its housing, homelessness and family violence response programs in the past financial year.
"And we still had to turn people away," CNV chief executive Margaret Augerinos said.
Annie North had responded to as many after-hours callouts in seven months as it did the previous year.
"We had also spent the same amount on emergency hotel accommodation we had the whole year before," Julie Oberin, Annie North's chief executive, said.
Story continues below graph
More news: Family violence worsens during pandemic
While the family violence response sector received fewer calls at the start of the pandemic, demand had risen again - and was expected to keep increasing.
"This financial year we're seeing double the after-hours callouts than we did previously," Ms Oberin said.
"We're also seeing increased anxiety and stress from our existing clients that are in supported crisis or social housing."
She said more crisis housing was needed for women leaving domestic violence.
"We find women who are put in hotels in crisis don't cope very well," she said.
More social housing would reduce a bottleneck in homelessness services from crisis accommodation through to housing, according to housing and homelessness campaign Everybody's Home.
Spokesperson Kate Colvin said the proportion of social housing was falling.
"The federal government keeps decreasing its investment in social housing," Ms Colvin said.
Everybody's Home is calling on the federal government to deliver 30,000 social housing properties in four years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A four-stage proposal has been put to government, requiring a $7.2 billion investment in new properties and $500 million to renovate existing stock.
Federal Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters pledged her support for more social housing during a webinar on Wednesday.
The webinar was presented by the Loddon Campaspe Homelessness Alliance.
If you or someone you know needs emotional support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
For help for family, domestic and sexual violence, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
If you are in danger, phone 000.