Amber Shepherd and Leslie Johns from Day Patrol took the time recently to explain how they coped with being on the front line while trying to help those living rough in Darwin stay safe.
“We were engaging twice as hard and talking to way more people during the lockdown, so there was definitely the thought in the back of my mind that I could catch this. It was pretty scary. All of the patrol staff felt the same, people were freaking out and on edge” explained Amber who has been working with Day Patrol for almost three years.
It’s a whitefella disease
Getting people to take the lockdown seriously was initially hard for Patrol because people were still hanging in big groups and moving around Darwin. Patrol was a key player in educating people about what lockdown meant, how to stay safe, and why they needed to wear masks.
Amber explained that at the start of the lockdown, COVID was still widely misunderstood. “In the first day or two the belief that COVID is white fella disease was still strong, but we was gifted to team up with the NT Aboriginal Community Police Officers.
ACPO officer Betina from Galiwinku who spoke language, was telling people in language about the risks and what people needed to be doing to protect themselves. She was good at explaining the seriousness of lockdown and why people needed to be moved. People really listened to her, and we got results from her which was good”.
If not on the streets, where do people go?
A significant challenge for the Patrol teams during the lockdown was where to take the people who couldn’t go home to community and had to stay in Darwin. Additionally, the capacity in the Patrol vehicles was reduced by half for social distancing which meant moving people around was slow.
“Gunner was telling people that we are in lockdown and people couldn’t be on the street and had to find accommodation, but people didn’t have accommodation to go to. We were just trying to move them away from the shops because we knew it wasn’t good to have groups of 20 people hanging around the shops for no reason. A lot of our work was about trying to disperse people and explaining why being in big groups was dangerous” said Amber.
Leslie believes that even though it was tough, keeping people in Darwin and as safe as possible, was far better than letting people return to community. “It’s good we didn’t send them back. We all know that it will be serious if countrymen get it. As soon as one gets it we won’t be able to isolate or anything, it will just go through the communities”.
Patrol focussed on education
A lot of the work done during the lockdown was explaining how COVID is spread and how serious the disease it. Wearing masks, staying in small groups and washing when possible was the best line of defence for people living rough during the lockdown, but it was hard to keep people socially isolated, so they were high risk, which was scary for those at the frontline of care.
However, when asked if their messaging was getting through, both Leslie and Amber said definitely. “It was pretty deadly seeing all the countrymen wearing their masks. Towards the end of the lockdown people really clicked on like they respected it”.
Patrol teams were given 5000 masks to hand out in the community throughout lockdown, which meant the teams were making contact with more people than they normally would to distribute them. “We were handing them to everyone, not just countrymen, if there was someone on the street who didn’t have one, we gave them one” said Leslie. “People were generally people happy to get a mask – no one wanted to get fined. You can’t muck around this with – this is serious” he said.
Respect has grown
The lockdown is over, but the effect of the work done by the Patrol is still going. Amber believes the positive change in sentiment is because of how many people they made contact with during the lockdown to distribute the masks and collect tracing information.
“There is more respect for us now, and I think this is because we’ve engaged with almost everybody through giving out masks and education. People are more familiar with us, and they are not as rude because it’s not the first time they have seen us. I do feel like the relationships are better.