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Responding with compassion

  • 09 July 2020
Panicked, anxious and without proper information, the residents of nine public housing estates in Flemington, North Melbourne and Kensington were put into a 'hard lockdown'. The government scrambled to contain the inclining and alarming positive cases of COVID-19. Residents paid a harsh price under these restrictions. They had no time to prepare. Their dignity as human beings was not prioritised. Key community organisations in the area were not consulted.

Despite this, the Australian Muslims Social Services Agency centre located across the North Melbourne public housing estates swiftly came to the aid of the community, opening the mosque doors to the wider community. Donations flooded the centre. Volunteers from across Melbourne arrived ready to support any way they could. Key volunteers came from Carlton and surrounding suburbs, mostly young African people were on the frontlines. They had used social media to reach out to friends, relatives and others locked in the housing estates to ask what they needed and then got to work.

When I arrived on day one, I was astonished by how organised and efficient the volunteers were. Some of the meals that were provided by The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), were circulated online by residents. Many non-perishable foods had perished. This food was well past the use by date. Meal packs had still not been delivered to the 3000 residents, who were hungry and anxiously waiting for any information on what would happen next.

AMSSA centre, largely headed by the youth faction prepared adequate meals and supply packs. These packages included fresh produce, culturally appropriate meals (halal), and essentials like, baby formula, nappies and period products. Volunteers walked across from the AMSSA centre armed with bags of food and delivered them to the foyer of the apartment blocks. This continued for hours.

Car loads of donations were taken down the road to the Flemington housing estates and Kensington. From their apartments residents waved down at volunteers, a show of gratitude. The residents who had become prisoners in their own homes, denied the four essential reasons that other lockdown suburbs received, were not forgotten by their community.

The obstacles faced by volunteers were disheartening and frustrating. The intimidating police presence, who have a strained relationship with the residents stemming from years of over policing, harassment and racial discrimination in the area was a great concern. A public health crisis fronted by police officers was a tense environment to be