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Community sector rallies around residents in hard lock down

6 July 2020 at 5:38 pm
Maggie Coggan
“What the community is very good at doing is recognising the human needs, and that's certainly what these charities do,” community leader says.

Maggie Coggan | 6 July 2020 at 5:38 pm


Community sector rallies around residents in hard lock down
6 July 2020 at 5:38 pm

“What the community is very good at doing is recognising the human needs, and that’s certainly what these charities do,” community leader says.  

Charity groups across Melbourne are scrambling to pull together thousands of emergency meals, funds and supplies amid community outrage over the five-day lockdown of nine housing towers across the city. 

On Saturday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a near immediate lockdown of the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing blocks in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19.   

For five days, the 3,000 residents of the housing estates are not allowed to leave their apartments. Around 500 police officers were immediately deployed across the nine towers to enforce the strict measures, followed by government staff and social workers to meet residents’ needs.    

The Victorian housing minister, Richard Wynne, said that food, essential items, medicines and any other help they need such as drug and alcohol addiction support will all be provided to residents for the duration of the lockdown. 

But it has been far from a smooth operation. The move has triggered significant outrage among residents of the flats and the broader community.

Reports have emerged that many residents waited hours for food and essential items to be delivered, and when food was delivered some of it was past its use by date; large families were given smaller food boxes; and some boxes were missing staples like bread or milk.

Community sector steps forward 

A number of larger and grassroots charities have now stepped in to provide support for vulnerable residents who are in lock down. 

Matt Tilley, the spokesperson for Foodbank Victoria, told Pro Bono News the organisation had food on the ground within a couple of hours of the government announcing the measures. 

“For those locked down for five days, they might not have anything to eat, so it was a pretty straightforward decision,” Tilley said. 

“The government calls on us to feed people in times of emergency, and certainly in a metropolitan area, this is one of the great emergencies we have faced in the modern era.”

The organisation has so far delivered over 3,000 food and personal care hampers to residents. 

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s (ASRC) social enterprise, ASRC Catering, has also cooked and delivered thousands of culturally appropriate and inclusive meals to the towers, alongside the Moving Feast network emergency response.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, ASRC CEO, said via Twitter that the meals would be something “these communities deserve”. 

“These families are our neighbours, part of our community, they are us and we are them,” he said.   

A fundraiser has also been set up by Victorian Trades Hall Council, with the funds to be dispersed in consultation with the Victorian Multicultural Commission, community groups and residents of the housing blocks. 

North Melbourne-based Australian Muslim Social Services Agency (AMSSA) has also asked the public for donations of PPE equipment, food, baby products, sanitary pads and medications like Panadol, Nurofen, and Ventolin inhalers.

Tilley said that it was crises such as this that really highlighted the importance of the community sector. 

“What the community is very good at doing is recognising the human needs, and that’s certainly what these charities do,” he said.  

“The beauty of what we’re seeing now is these organisations that have always been thinking about those who are vulnerable, and who know what these people require to be spiritually and physically nourished.”

Crisis ignites calls for more social housing 

Social and community groups say the quick spread of the virus through crowded apartments also highlights the urgent need for more social housing in the state. 

Jenny Smith, the CEO of Council to Homeless Persons, said that while having a home that is safe and allows for self-isolation is critical to avoiding the virus, people on low wages can’t afford decent housing in the state’s private rental market. 

“Doubling up in homes with other families, or living in boarding houses with shared facilities, is the only way many people can keep a roof over their head,” Smith said. 

Victoria currently has the lowest portion of social housing of all states and territories in the country, with more than 80,000 people on the social housing waiting list. Smith said that post-pandemic, this had to change. 

“This pandemic has brought home some hard truths. Our housing is critical to our health. Providing decent homes for people on low incomes means building a lot more social housing,” she said. 

“To create a strong and healthy Victorian community, that can be safe and resilient in a pandemic, at least 6,000 new social housing properties need to be built each year for 10 years.”

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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