Twenty Indigenous women and children from remote communities are currently being accommodated by South Australian authorities at a campsite near Adelaide to ensure their safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The group are made up of people from remote communities in SA and the Northern Territory, with many sleeping rough or living in crowded tenement accommodations. Five more are expected to join their number in the coming days.
Many of them had been in Adelaide to visit family when news of the rapidly escalating pandemic broke, prompting the APY Lands to seal access to their region to prevent the virus from spreading to communities considered most the vulnerable to the virus.
While the South Australian Housing Authority (SAHA) had been planning programs to assist Indigenous people from remote communities to return home, those plans were cancelled and emergency accommodation had to be found.
Graham Brown, CEO of Baptist Care SA said his organisation partnered with SAHA to arrange use of a campground with full amenities including kitchen, bathroom and washing facilities for use as safe, emergency housing.
“This is something we developed when we realised the scenario unfolding before us [with the pandemic] and Baptist Care SA offered the use of the site to the South Australian Housing Authority,” Brown said.
“Some of the people now living there have been down since New Year but were living in over-crowded situations which wasn’t consistent with social distancing regulations.”
“I understand the Anangu people who are there are really enjoying being able to gather around the campfire, being able to enjoy the campsite.”
SAHA Chief Executive Michael Buchan told NITV News on Tuesday the decision was important to support the community during this time of crisis.
"We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing anxiety and disruption to people's lives,” Mr Buchan said.
“The Authority is working with the community to meet the needs of remote visitors who are unable to return home or who need safe accommodation where they can practice good hygiene and social distancing.”
The effort is being organised in partnership with several organisations, including community leaders and partnership organisations in both Adelaide and the APY Lands.
Consultation has been prioritised to ensure cultural, emotional and spiritual needs are accounted for, along with specific concerns of those who are being allowed to stay.
Though the camp is mostly for women and children, family groups who wish to remain together may do so, while those who have specific safety concerns will have their needs addressed.
With the campgrounds expected to be occupied for six months, there are plans to provide education for children in language while city-based Aboriginal-controlled healthcare service Nunkuwarrin Yunti is currently setting up to provide on-going healthcare.
Nunkuwarrin Yunti CEO Vicki Holmes said the organisation sent two registered nurses to the site last week to screen for Covid-19 symptoms, pre-existing health conditions and any vaccinations needed.
"It all happened very quickly,” Ms Holmes said. “We had a call about 11am last week and we had a team on site by 2.30pm to do some initial screening. This has now grown into the need to provide ongoing health care”
“We believe everyone will probably be up there for about six months. We just want to have a small group of primary caregivers who will go in as we can’t have lots of different people traipsing up there as it increases the risk”.
The organisation is now seeking funding from the federal government to continue.
“This is the reality of implementing some of the national and local ideas on pandemic planning in regards to minimising transmission,” Ms Holmes said. “It’s happening right across Australia, the restricted movement of people in and out of communities and as well as states.”
“This is the reality for Aboriginal people. Unfortunately they are basically stuck in Adelaide. None of it has been planned, so we’re just trying to meet their needs as best as possible.
“And we will move mountains if we have to.”