We need more Health Care and less Police

HAAG was shocked at reports of a “hard lockdown” being enforced by police on public housing tenants in Flemington and North Melbourne on Saturday.  This response was inappropriate and stigmatized low income, mostly migrant Victorians, many of whom have English as a second language.  We note that residents in privately owned apartments in the lockdown postcodes have not been subject to the same level of policing.

The community response to prevent a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in these estates must be health-based, and not law and order based.  We are concerned about the presence of police on the estates, and although they claim to be there to support a health and not an enforcement response, the history of over-policing and racial profiling cannot be ignored.

HAAG has approximately 50 current and former clients and members currently living under these “hard lockdown” (detention) restrictions, and many more in public and community housing in the surrounding lockdown suburbs. Our housing support team is contacting our clients and members to check in with them, and to assess their support needs.

The picture that is emerging today is one of fear and confusion.  Many are unaware of what is going on – residents don’t know that rent has been waived, they have seen no support staff, they don’t know if they are to be tested for COVID-19, and many were unaware of the 1800 helpline number.  Those that had tried to call it reported trouble getting through and long wait times. There were concerns about a lack of culturally appropriate food, medicine, and access to information. They are unsure if they can still use the communal laundry, and are concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment and sanitization. The term “detention” has caused fear and confusion.

Residents have been concerned about overcrowding, maintenance and cleaning of communal areas in the public housing estates for some time. We are calling on Government to provide free personal protective equipment and sanitizer for all public and community housing tenants, both in hard lockdown and elsewhere in the lockdown postcodes as a matter of priority. We renew our call for urgent investment into more public housing.

We are also concerned about the lack of culturally appropriate and in-language communication to residents about health and safety. Our clients are confused and fearful, and report that information is being shouted over public address systems with very little in-language and translated written material.

Residents in large public housing estates are vulnerable to a COVID-19 outbreak due to many systemic issues that need to be addressed – low paid casual workers without access to sick leave, living in overcrowded and poorly maintained housing, not receiving public health messages from a trusted source in a language they understand.  

We are calling on the Government to urgently address the cleaning and maintenance issues in all public housing estates, particularly the older person’s high rise, and consult with the social and community sector workers to better plan and respond to a potential COVID-19 outbreak, especially if the hard lock down is to be extended to other estates.

For further information: Fiona York, Executive Officer Fiona.york@oldertenants.org.au 0449 554 142