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Social housing residents form Action Group after ‘over-policed’ hard lockdown rollout

Four cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the Camperdown Common Ground apartment block, leading to a lockdown rollout the residents have described as 'heavy-handed'. Photo: Mission Australia.


Mission Australia’s Common Ground social housing facility in Camperdown was placed into lockdown from 8AM on Thursday 2 September for 14 days until Wednesday 15 September after four tenants tested positive to COVID-19.

Common Ground residents formed an Action Group to ensure they are properly supported.

Common Ground Action Group criticised the lockdown rollout as over-policed, heavy handed, intimidatory and demeaning.

“The people of Common Ground have a history of being treated differently with regards to our social status as being ‘vulnerable,’” the group said.

“We are a vulnerable group coming from diverse backgrounds, many with a history of trauma however we also see this as a position of strength, versatility and as a group we identify as proud survivors of institutional trauma.

“We will not tolerate harassment or disempowerment by anyone including Mission Australia, local Police authorities or RPA hospital staff.”

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said in a statement, “we know the experience of a lockdown is very challenging for everyone living and working at Common Ground. Mission Australia is fully engaged with tenants and is providing support to them within the parameters of NSW Health and Police guidelines.”

Uncommon ground

Ms Saffaa, an artist and resident of Common Ground told City Hub intimidation tactics were used to inform residents they were locked down through a leaflet slipped under their doors which warned residents not to leave the building or police would be called.

“They are treating us like suspects, like criminals. They are not giving us the benefit of the doubt. If this building was in an affluent area, I guarantee you this would not happen, the lockdown in the first place would have never happened,” she said.

“You have to understand how upset we are, this is completely classist, and they are just doing this because we’re poor essentially, that’s what it comes down to.”

She said it was imperative that the residents receive proper support.

“A lot of these people have been previously either incarcerated or homeless or institutionalized and for them to be dealing immediately with NSW Health or the police, that’s traumatizing for them.

“These people who have gone through institution after institution, have been victimized by these institutions and not treated well by these institutions and end up in homeless shelters, and Mission Australia has relinquished all of their power over the building, and they handed us over to NSW Police and NSW Health without consulting us.”

Ms Saffaa said she has been doing the work to look after other residents’ mental health and get them in contact with help.

“My mental health is hanging on by a thread, and here I am trying to care for other people.

“I have bipolar and I’m severely manic at the moment and the only way I’ve been managing my mania and depression without medication is to exercise. I ride my bike for two hours. I go to the skate park for two hours. That’s how I manage it and now I’m locked here.

“I’m going out of my brain trying to figure out ways to get my heart rate up,” she said.

Food fumble

Mission Australia’s CEO James Toomey said Mission Australia has been coordinating food hampers, delivery of food including fresh food boxes and frozen meals, providing supermarket gift vouchers, meal delivery gift vouchers such as Uber Eats, complimentary pizza, and other items.

“We have also called tenants to understand their dietary needs and have been providing access to gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and lactose free food deliveries to meet these needs,” he said.

Ms Saffaa said she had a phone call with Mission Australia in which they asked about her dietary needs. She then received a box which she said was not appropriate for her to eat.

She said she called them about a different resident’s food requirements and was told they are not providing any cooked meals because too many residents in the building have dietary needs that cannot be met.

She said they were also told there are only three time slots that deliveries will be brought to them.

“If I order at 2, I’m not going to get my food until 3, if I order at 5 and it arrives at 5, it’s not going to get to me until 6,” she said.

NSW Health said the welfare of residents is paramount.

NSW Police said police were present to ensure compliance with the public health orders.

Common Ground Action Group has put a list of questions and demands to Mission Australia.

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