Social housing residents call for support after estate locked down

The Common Ground housing complex at Camperdown. Photo: Mission Australia.

By DAMIEN NOVAK

Residents of the Common Ground social and affordable housing estate in Camperdown are calling for respect and support after their apartment building was placed into hard lockdown. 

The call comes after the complex, which was purpose-built for vulnerable community members, was shut off from the outside world following four positive Covid-19 tests among residents. 

The estate, run by Mission Australia, is home to 130 people – all of whom are now confined to their units – including many people who were formerly homeless, and members of the Aboriginal, transgender, migrant and refugee communities. 

Residents say they are not being treated fairly, citing a lack of information, as well as issues around people accessing essential medicines.

A statement from the Common Ground Action Group said: “Mission Australia and NSW Health placed notes under our doors, only after we awoke to police and health workers surrounding the building. There has been little communication with us. The 1800 number provided by Mission Australia for residents has been staffed by people saying, ‘This is a maintenance line,’ or ‘I can’t answer this question.’ Some residents don’t have phones.”

According to the action group, the lockdown is being enforced in a heavy-handed and intimidating way.

“On Friday 3rd September at 10 pm six police cars, sirens blaring, blocked off Pyrmont Bridge Road. One resident was taken out in a stretcher, but no information has been given to us about who, or why. Health officials have only started to call residents about their medication needs. Pets are not being walked.

“We are aware that Covid-19 is deadly and we don’t want to infect anyone in the community. We thank NSW health and our frontline nursing staff for putting their health on the line to assist us with testing and vaccinations, but we will not tolerate the bullying and coercive actions by police, security or Common Ground’s management.”

The group has issued a list of four demands:

– A town hall Zoom meeting of all residents in Common Ground. Residents want to chair the meeting. 

– Immediate and respectful delivery of appropriate medicines to residents, culturally appropriate and peer-to-peer health care rollout for all residents.

– Rent-free accommodation for all residents in lockdown.

– Entertainment strategies for residents, including library drop-offs and free streaming (TV series, podcast and documentary) services. 

The group is also calling on people to show support for the residents by exercising, biking or driving around the estate, on Pyrmont Bridge Road and Lambert Street, demonstrating solidarity by wearing purple or bringing rainbow, Aboriginal or trans flags.

A Mission Australia spokesperson confirmed that the building would remain in lockdown until Wednesday, 15 September.

The organisation said it was notified on Sunday, 29 August that two tenants had tested positive, and that another two had tested positive on Wednesday, 1 September. 

Ten tenants have been identified as close contacts, as have three Mission Australia staff. The ten tenants and those who tested positive for Covid-19 are being cared for off-site by Sydney Local Health District. The Mission Australia staff are isolating off-site at home.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said the lockdown activated additional powers enabling NSW Health to take stronger outbreak management measures.

“People who have been homeless for a long period of time, like many residents at Common Ground, are more likely to be facing complex physical and mental health concerns. This places them at greater risk of their health being compromised if they are infected with the Delta strain of Covid-19. It also makes the process of managing Covid Safe practices all the more challenging,” he said. 

Mission Australia said a deep clean of Common Ground had been completed and that rigorous daily cleaning continues. Door-to-door Covid-19 testing is continuing, managed by NSW Health.