Residents in nine housing towers now in hard lockdown in Melbourne say they have been forced to establish their own support network rather than rely on the government for essential supplies or information.
“Last night by 2am some houses still didn’t have food delivered,” said Ahmed Dini, a resident of the North Melbourne towers and a social worker.
“I think there is a lot of anger towards the DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services]. At the moment there is more anger towards DHHS than the police because they promised they were going to have food delivered, that they were going to have essentials delivered.”
When food was delivered, many were missing staples like bread or milk, with large families asked to share small boxes. Seven News published a video of one tower resident sorting through the expired food he was given, stating that one item had a use-by date from 2019.
At a press conference on Monday premier Daniel Andrews stated that every household received a delivery of food and milk to their door. But Dini said a number of residents were no longer accepting food from the department.
“No one is touching the food that the DHHS has given. It’s just lined up in the corridor because no one wants to take it inside,” said Dini.
“You will find boxes of food that have been left right in front of the lift because it is pork. But the vast majority of people living in the towers are Muslim, they can’t eat it.”
Dini said that his social support group the Ubuntu Project had been stepping up to ensure people received supplies.
“We took a lot of it into our own hands. We created a social media platform, we are asking the public for hot food to be delivered, non-expired food to be delivered.”
Dini said his group have been able to organise volunteers to deliver the fresh groceries to those in need.
“We have basically become the centre point for people who want to volunteer … We are getting people who need anything to call the number the government has given, and if they can’t get through, call us. We will start calling people. We have people on the ground, we have details of members of Victoria police down there, we have details for the department, we have contacts for people in parliament.”
Andrews stated on Monday the charities and companies were providing food and essentials to the residents in the towers, facilitated by the government.
“Foodbank for instance. Three thousand meals and 500 hampers have been distributed to residents. These were distributed yesterday … Foodbank have provided 1,000 hampers containing essential food staples like cereal, long life milk, sugar, pasta, canned vegetables,” he said.
“Fair Share, another fantastic charitable group that prepare meals for so many people across the state, they have provided 3,000 pre-prepared meals and 4,500 pastries. Victorian Trades Hall in partnership with an organisation called Moving Feast have delivered several thousand halal meals.
“This is a particularly culturally and linguistically diverse group of people, and making sure that we don’t just have quantities of food but the appropriate food is very important as well.”
Andrews said Coles had also provided seven palettes of essential items to the residents.
Groups from various Sikh organisations have also set up outside the towers, offering hot vegetarian meals.
On Sunday, the Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton conceded that not all nine towers had confirmed Covid-19 cases.
“There’s a lot of exchange of individuals between those addresses. So we have to work on the precautionary principle that transmission might have occurred across towers that we haven’t yet had a notified case from,” he said.
Dini said residents of two towers had already received letters informing them they would be in “detention” for 14 days, rather than the five days that was originally announced by the premier.
“People are angry and they have every right to be angry. I think a lot of that anger is based on the decision that was made to have the lockdown effective immediately,” said Dini.
“The police went into the community within 15 minutes. Woman and children who were downstairs, once they saw [the police] they just ran into the building. They didn’t know what was happening. There were people locking their doors and say ‘don’t ever call the police’. There was so much misinformation. There was so much fear.”
Dini said for many residents, police swarming their building was a familiar and terrifying experience.
“A lot of the older members of the community, they fled countries with brutal dictators that used the police as a mechanism to oppress the people. So you can imagine when busloads of police and police cars are loaded in front of the building; that would scare anybody.
“Even if we did have to go into hard lockdown, the government should have sent social workers first, they should have sent medical workers first. But it was the police that came first and from there they were like ‘no one else in the building, we will tell you what happens from here’,” he said.
Testing has begun in several of the towers and is expected to continue throughout Monday. Between 400 and 500 tests had been conducted on Monday morning.
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