Coronavirus

Social housing residents struggling with ‘inadequate food’ and ‘overpolicing’ in hard lockdown

Ms Saffaa (left) and Robin Elhaj (right) are residents at Common Ground Towers and are currently under hard lockdown. Source: Supplied

EXCLUSIVE: Residents under hard lockdown in a social housing block in Sydney say they’re concerned about inadequate food and authorities searching packages and confiscating items like alcohol.

Residents in a social housing estate in Sydney have complained about overpolicing and inadequate food supplies after 104 homes were plunged into hard lockdown, following the detection of four positive COVID-19 cases in the building. 

Ms Saffaa, a disability support worker and artist, was about to leave for work last Thursday when her building was swarmed by health workers in PPE and police officers.

“Someone stopped me and asked me if I was a resident. I said yes and they said, ‘Well, the building is under lockdown, you can't leave’,” Ms Saffaa told The Feed.

Ms Saffaa lives in Common Ground Towers, a social housing estate in Camperdown. 

The building is run by Mission Australia, with residents having experienced long-term homelessness and insecure housing.

At the direction of health workers, Ms Saffaa headed upstairs where she claims she was kept “in the dark” for hours; not knowing what to do or if she could get any food delivered.

Later, Ms Saffaa was informed by Mission Australia and NSW Health that all residents were considered close contacts and were required to quarantine for two weeks. 

“There’s been a lack of transparency and lack of communication,” she said.

Ms Saffaa
Ms Saffaa has tested negative to COVID-19 twice and is fully vaccinated. She hopes authorities will allow her to exercise.
Supplied

Ms Saffaa claims authorities have been searching care packages and deliveries to the building and confiscating items like alcohol and cigarettes.

She said when her friend attempted to drop off items for her, she was stopped by police who asked if she had any illegal drugs before searching her bag.

“I don't do drugs, I don't drink, I don't even smoke but they still searched her bag,” Ms Saffaa said.

“Our food has been brought to us opened and tampered with and the alcohol that was sent to certain people was confiscated and held with the police or NSW Health.”

The Feed put these claims to NSW Police and was advised to contact NSW Health who are managing the site. 

A spokesperson at Sydney Local Health District told The Feed, “some deliveries of alcohol have been restricted to ensure the safety of health staff and residents.”

“Any alcohol deliveries that have been withheld will be available to residents when the building ceases to be in lockdown."

The spokesperson said the same alcohol consumption guidelines apply to people quarantining in the Special Health Accommodation, “which cares for those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or close contacts or a confirmed case.”

“Since March last year, more than 18,140 people have been cared for in the Special Health Accommodation,” the spokesperson said.

“Common Ground residents requiring higher levels of alcohol can request assessment by Sydney Local Health District Drug and Alcohol clinicians.

“We understand the lockdown of the building may be challenging for some residents and we are working closely with Mission Australia to ensure the safety and welfare of all involved.” 

The searching of packages and heavy police presence has made people feel as if they are being treated differently to others in the state, according to resident Robin Elhaj

“It's not their business what people drink,” Robin said.

“People have the right to their own privacy. Just because people are poor, doesn’t mean they don’t have rights.”

Robin said the food packages delivered to residents have been “barely adequate”.

“We received two boxes, one from Foodbank and one from a local charity, with barely any fresh produce or food specific to people’s dietary requirements,” Robin said.

“Some people in the building are vegetarians and some are Muslim who eat halal.”

Robin said the residents who can afford it are resorting to buying their own groceries or relying on Uber Eats.

“But it’s not really a feasible thing for people in here because we're from a low-income background and a lot of people have to survive week to week on donations,” he said.

In a statement to The Feed, a spokesperson from Sydney Local Health District said they are “working in partnership with the Department of Communities and Justice, Mission Australia and NSW Police to ensure the safety of the residents.”

“The welfare of the residents is paramount,” the spokesperson said.

“Frequent supplies of fresh food, including provisions for pets, have been arranged.

“Medical and welfare support is also available to all residents, including assistance to

contact family and loved ones.”

In a statement, Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey said, “all Common Ground tenants are being supported for all their needs” by NSW Health and the charity.

Mr Toomey said Mission Australia has been “proactively calling tenants” and arranging regular door-drops of information and supplies to all tenants since the beginning of the lockdown. 

“Mission Australia’s tenant support team has been coordinating food hampers, delivery of food including fresh food boxes and frozen meals, providing supermarket gift vouchers, meal delivery gift vouchers such as Uber Eats, complimentary pizza, pet supplies and other items,” he said.

“We have also called tenants to understand their dietary needs and have been providing access to gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and lactose-free food deliveries to meet these needs.”

For Ms Saffaa, who is fully vaccinated and has tested negative twice to the virus, food isn’t the only issue. She’s living with severe mental illness. 

“I have bipolar and my mental health has been severely affected because of lack of exercise,” she said.

“We need to be treated with the respect and dignity we deserve.

“We're not criminals.”

Robin has set up a Facebook page called ‘Common Ground Action Group’ where residents are campaigning for several demands to be met.

These demands include; a town hall zoom meeting of all residents chaired by residents, immediate delivery of appropriate medicines, rent-free accommodation and entertainment strategies such as library drop-offs and free streaming services. 

“We want NSW Health to answer our questions, we want the police to stop...going through our food and gifts.”

 Readers seeking crisis support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue at BeyondBlue.org.au.