How Australians are mobilising to support Melbourne's locked-down public housing residents

People from across the country are mobilising to help the public housing tower residents in Melbourne under Australia's strictest coronavirus stay-at-home orders. Here's how you can help, too.

Volunteers at the Australian Muslim Social Services Agency in North Melbourne, Monday, July 6, 2020.

Volunteers at the Australian Muslim Social Services Agency in North Melbourne, Monday, July 6, 2020. Source: AAP

Thousands of people across nine public housing towers in Melbourne were suddenly ushered into a hard lockdown on Saturday afternoon to contain new coronavirus clusters there.

The 3,000 residents in the Flemington and North Melbourne towers, many of whom are from migrant and refugee backgrounds, are not allowed to leave their buildings for any reason.

People across Australia have rallied together to offer extra assistance and raise money so non-profit organisations can provide targeted support, though reports have emerged that some donated goods have not been allowed inside.

Here's a look at how people are helping out and what you can do to support them. 

Culturally-appropriate food

The Victorian government is providing supplies to the affected tenants, with 500 packs of essential goods and over 3,000 meals delivered on Sunday night alone.

But there's complaints about some of the food parcels being delivered by the government, with some residents reporting receiving expired or culturally-inappropriate food, such as non-halal meat.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is cooking culturally-specific hot meals at its catering headquarters in Fitzroy North.

“We are making sure families are getting culturally-appropriate, culturally-inclusive food. If you don’t have food that's culturally appropriate, you don’t have food security,” CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis said.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis at the organisation's catering headquarters
Source: SBS News

Mr Karapanagiotidis said many of the tower residents are refugees and being kept in a confined space would bring back trauma.

“We know the people in the towers right now are going to be traumatised and scared. What we want to do is take one thing off their worry list and make sure they have proper food right now.”

Sikh Volunteers Australia has been bringing hundreds of hot vegetarian meals, made with food and financial donations from the community, to the towers from its Cranbourne base.

“We received a few calls, as we have been running a COVID-19 service in the last few months, and [the tower residents] asked us if we could come with some hot food,” vice president Manpreet Singh said.

A team from Sikh Volunteers Australia outside a tower in Kensington
Source: Facebook

“We went there, and talking with authorities, they were happy for us to be there. We did not make any direct contact with anyone. They set up a special table for us outside the building. We left the food on the table and people took them inside.”

“We are doing it to make people happy and we are going to go there every day.”

The Moroccan Soup Bar in Fitzroy is also working with authorities to send meals to the towers. The restaurant says people can volunteer time to help make meals or donate money towards its relief efforts.

Sanitary products 

Some tower residents have been posting online that they need nappies and sanitary items.

The National Homeless Collective (NHC) delivered around 140 tins of baby formula, hundreds of nappies, and as part of its Melbourne Period Project initiative, more than 100 packs of sanitary items to the towers on Monday.

“Because of the short notice at which people were locked down, they’ve been caught short. Infant feeding, nappies and sanitary items for women cannot be substituted,” NHC CEO Donna Stolzenberg said.

Products being delivered as part of the Melbourne Period Project
Source: Supplied

Ms Stolzenberg said some locked-down residents have been struggling to access government-provided baby supplies and hygiene items.

“We have heard that people are ringing the number they’ve been provided but aren’t getting calls back. There’s an issue with people who don’t speak English who can’t explain what they need. I can only imagine the stress the distress people in the towers, so we want to get as much stuff in there as fast as possible."

Foodbank Victoria is calling for financial donations to help provide food and essential items to those in the towers. On Sunday, it said it had already delivered 1,600 hampers.

The Australian Muslim Social Services Agency, based in North Melbourne near one of the affected towers, has also opened its doors so people can drop off supplies such as PPE equipment, medication and toilet paper.

A resident of one of the towers holds a sign with the word 'jail' on it.
Source: SBS News

Video classes, fundraisers and translators

Various community Facebook groups have sprung up since the lockdowns were announced, in which locals have been brainstorming ways to offer support and ways to get it to the residents. 

Inside one group, people are offering to hold dance or yoga classes over video to help keep locked-down residents active.

Several non-profit organisations have also launched crowdfunding initiatives.

A now-closed campaign organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council raised more than $280,000 in less than 48 hours, but its rapid success prompted concerns about how the funds would be distributed.

After closing the funding drive, the council announced on its Facebook page that 100 per cent of funds would be given to residents “in consultation with the Victorian Multicultural Commission, community groups and residents, and their representative associations and in consultation with community services support, and the government.”

The Ubuntu Project has also started a crowdfunding drive, with all profits to go to affected residents.

Community members have also taken it upon themselves to translate specific information about the lockdowns.

Following Saturday's sudden announcement, some tenants reported being confused and panicked after being unable to access information in languages other than English.

Melbourne-based Congolese-New Zealander Wani Le Frere was quick to provide translations of the coronavirus health advice in 10 languages.

Access Easy English has also created information about what is happening for residents in simplified language, complete with pictures.

Residents in affected public housing towers who need access to support and assistance should call the Housing Call Centre on 1800 961 054. If you need a translator, first call 131 450. Both services are 24/7. More information can be found here.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus  

Additional reporting by Jarni Blakkarly, Gareth Boreham


Share
Published 6 July 2020 at 5:47pm, updated 7 July 2020 at 12:22pm
By Evan Young