As around 3,000 residents in nine public housing towers entered a fifth day of complete lockdown on Monday, the rest of Australia learned of the implications of the government-enforced move that has been described as “overt classism and racism.”
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews defended on Sunday his decision to send 500 police officers to the Flemington public housing estate to keep residents inside for at least five days as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Melbourne’s suburbs. Residents nearby, some in the same postcode as the towers, are free to leave their homes for essential reasons.
The state recorded 74 cases new cases on Sunday, after Saturday’s 108 cases prompted the lockdown order from 4pm.
“This is not going to be a pleasant experience for those residents, but I have a message for those residents: this is not about punishment but protection,” Andrews said in a televised conference.
Promising two weeks of free rent and hardship payments to the residents, Andrews said public health workers would test every resident of the buildings, except those who have previously tested positive.
Residents pointed out on social media the government’s relief payments would not cover a full week’s missed wage, and food provided in boxes was “scarce and mismatched” with authorities providing no bread and cereal without milk.
“These people who live in the flats are largely black and brown folk, from migrant backgrounds and lower socioeconomic backgrounds that rely on public housing,” Tigist Kebede, a counsellor in Naarm (Melbourne), said on Instagram.
“Half my family live in these buildings, I used to live there. This area has a traumatic history of over policing, racial harassment and profiling by officers. This is overt classism and racism. This is not how we treated any other suburbs, apartment building or demographic of people.”
Somali Australian writer and Carlton local Idil Ali, who has been coordinating aid for the locked down estates, says tenants need PPE, fresh vegetables, spreads, cereals, body wash, pads and tampons, milk, bread, pasta, pasta sauces, rice, laundry detergent, coffee and Milo.
Items can be dropped to the Australian Muslim Social Services Agency (AMSSA) Centre from 2pm-11pm.
In addition to the complete lockdown orders, more than 30 Melbourne suburbs are also under strict social distancing orders, but people there can leave their houses to go to work, school or to buy groceries.
Residents enduring the lockdown released a list of changes they want implemented immediately including the right to leave the estate for four reasons: work or education, exercise, medical care, caregiving or shopping for supplies.
They also want the heavy police presence removed.
How to help
Solidarity for Melbourne Public Housing Residents in Lockdown is a fundraiser run by Ahmed Dini of the Ubuntu Project to supply residents with culturally appropriate food, hygiene supplies, baby products, petrol and mental health services.
Ubuntu Project’s Hard Lockdown Appeal is asking for ongoing counselling services, social support and technology and communication resources.
Victorian Trades Hall Council fundraiser has reached its goal amount but will be live again once funds are distributed and organisers determine what else residents need.
Deliver supplies to the AMSSA Centre at 91-101 Boundary Rd, North Melbourne Victoria 3051. UPDATE: AMSSA said on Tuesday it has stoped taking donations for now.
Donate food or funds to Sikh Volunteers Australia, an organisation that has delivered hot meals to the towers on Sunday and Monday.