Distressing claims have emerged from people locked down in nine public housing towers in Melbourne where residents are complaining they are being “starved”.
Debbie Harrison and her 83-year-old mum Ivy live in one of the North Melbourne towers and told A Current Affair that despite being locked down on Saturday due to a coronavirus outbreak, their first delivery of food didn’t come until Monday.
They claimed they were given four sausage rolls in a plastic bag, which Ms Harrison said went straight in the bin”, telling the program “we're not going to touch them”.
A resident in a Flemington tower shared similarly disturbing details, telling the program “people are going to die of starvation” and he had heard of women going door-to-door in search of milk.
Others shared footage of boxes received by government staff, complaining of out-of-date items and issues like receiving cereal with no milk, and jam with no bread.
Footage surfaced on Twitter on Monday night showing SES workers appearing to remove food and household goods from a tower in Flemington.
A witness said workers were “taking away donations and personal supplies to undisclosed locations” and not responding to questions from residents asking why.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has since apologised for a delay in getting residents essential supplies, saying there was “confusion” over the matter on Monday.
“DHHS is aware of some delays with accepting donations and deliveries which caused confusion at the Flemington housing estate this evening,” the department said in a statement.
“We are currently working with the parties involved to make sure food and other supplies are being provided without further interruption.
“We apologise for the inconvenience and frustration caused and thank the residents for their co-operation and patience.”
Residents are confused as to why all their supplies are being confiscated without information (photos are from Flemington flats) pic.twitter.com/vava8r3uTA
— wāni. (@wanifrombukavu) July 6, 2020
Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten, told Today on Tuesday authorities needed to treat the “battlers” living in the towers as “decently” as possible.
“People who live in these towers they are not something different or special. They are battlers, they are trying to go to work. There are nurses and teachers there,” Mr Shorten told the program.
“There's a whole lot of people trying to make ends meet. It is a difficult situation. I just think that we need to... treat these people as decently as we can.”
Charities delivering meals to tower residents
Charity groups acted fast in response to calls for help and have been delivering hundreds of residents food and essential goods.
AMSSA Youth Connect collected items on Monday and quickly reached its collection capacity, while hundreds of free meals are being cooked and delivered by the Sikh Food Truck.
Organiser Jaswinder Singh told told Today the business had been able to provide 1325 meals so far with the assistance of police and the DHHS.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised after a fund was established by the Victorian Trades Hall Council to support residents living in the towers.
— Tom Kelly (@tpwkelly) July 6, 2020
Still, there are several volunteers and residents reporting issues with the logistics and process of getting food to those who need it.
The 3000 residents are not permitted to leave their apartments for any reason for at least five days, and could be restricted to their homes for 14 days if cases continue to climb.
There were 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 inside the living quarters on Monday, as police patrol entrances and corridors.
The state government said it had given out 3000 meals, 1000 food hampers and 250 personal care packs to residents, while charities and community groups help with meals and supplies.
Residents have shared images on social media of out-of-date meals, food left on the floor and Muslim families given pork.
Victorian Council of Social Services CEO Emma King was concerned culturally appropriate meals weren't being provided by the government.
“We need to save lives first and foremost, but we need to make sure people get the support that they need and they aren't terrified through the process,” she said.
Community groups and volunteers have been organising to provide residents with groceries after hearing some lacked necessities.
Premier Daniel Andrews said people in the towers would be looked after.
“There are literally hundreds and thousands of people working - from police to social workers, to nurses and doctors, all the way through to people working in our supermarkets, people working in commercial kitchens ... they are all doing their absolute best,” he said.
He added halal meals have been handed out by the Victorian Trades Hall in partnership with social enterprise Moving Feast.
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