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5 May 2020
“No deaths, no sicknesses at 614.” That was the goal for the Salvos at Melbourne’s 69 Bourke Street when the world changed and COVID-19 became a byword for loneliness, fear and stress.
Through social distancing, rigorous hygiene and use of masks, the Salvos have kept on keeping on. While three of the Salvos’ clients have taken ill and been tested for COVID-19, thankfully there have been no positive tests for the Coronavirus.
As I write, on 22 April, 74 Australians have died of covid19; there are 6647 cases in Australia and more than 2.5 million cases of infection globally. Things could have been, and could still be, so much worse in this country.
The Salvation Army’s Melbourne 614 was deemed an essential service, in consultation with the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government. The Salvos’ doors stayed open, and their staff stayed on deck, helping people, when so many other doors were closed and other workforces were directed to work from home.
In addition to continuing to care for the 140 people living in Magpie Nest accommodation, reaching out to make sure their physical, social and health needs were met, the Salvos moved 216 homeless people into accommodation in hotels and motels across the city and outlying suburbs such as Lilydale and Dandenong.
This was unprecedented.
Some people have slept rough for 30 years. For some of them, a pandemic is not going to move them. Nor would an earthquake or a flood.
Salvos staff do after-midnight outreach with members of the Victoria Police, walking the streets of Melbourne’s CBD to ensure rough sleepers are okay. All the while, from 100-125 meals a day are being served out the windows of the 614 cafe, morning, noon and night. More than 1,260 meals are also being distributed to the homeless people in those hotels and motels, and hundreds of food parcels are being given out each week.
Think about that - more than 1,000 meals per week have been cooked, delivered and eaten; stemming from Parliament House’s three industrial kitchens on Spring Street, and eaten at the Salvos in Westwood Place or delivered across Melbourne by Salvation Army staff.
These actions have made a difference, in keeping people safe and helping to reduce the possible rate of infection. They have kept people fed and housed.
As Ross Gittins had written for the Sydney Morning Herald, “if you leave the poor – the unemployed, the casual workers, the sick and the homeless – feeling ignored and excluded, you rob them of both the motivation and the financial and physical ability to play their part in not spreading the virus to others. If you’re not caring, they become the weak link in your efforts to lower the infection rate.”
That has not happened, thank God.
Many of the people who had been sleeping rough and then placed in accommodation were particularly at risk of contracting COVID-19, with vulnerable immune systems and pre-existing respiratory and other health issues that placed them in harm’s way if they’d stayed on the streets as winter kicked in.
Those who chose to stay on the street or who came in to see friends and Salvos staff – a figure ranging from dozens to scores of people, depending on the day – are receiving medical care and support from St Vincent’s Hospital nursing staff who are embedded with the Salvos.
Spatial distancing is a difficult thing to get used to – the use of masks seemed alienating early on. The trust and connection between staff and clients meant distance was respected.
Melbourne 614 wants to thank its partners who have helped them help others. As mentioned, the kitchens of Victoria’ s Parliament have been working constantly, providing soups, meals, cakes, and fruit salads to homeless people. Nine tonnes of fresh food were donated by Crown, and Collingwood Football Club helped to store that food and the meals that were subsequently cooked from it. Crown also donated toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
Australia Post provided 2,000 facemasks.
Coles provided 2,000 meals to other supplies to the people living in Magpie Nest houses.
We’ll leave the last word to Bernie, a regular at Melbourne 614.
Bernie asked Major Brendan Nottle where the food had come from, and Brendan explained the help the Parliament was providing.
“Those guys cook for kings and queens, now they’re cooking for us?
“This is better than MasterChef!”
From The Salvation Army Melbourne Project 614, April 2020