A city divided: As Sydney comes to life, scars of foreclosure persist in the west | Sydney

Sydney barista Minh Bui rarely had time to sit in her own cafe, but this weekday morning she is in no rush. It’s just her and two women sitting in the corner.

Asked about the state of affairs in her Liverpool cafe since the Sydney lockdown was lifted, Bui waves to the empty seats around her.

“It’s bad enough, it’s worse than before the lockdown,” Bui said. “Over the past two years we’ve struggled, and before Delta we were doing about 50% of the business we did before. Now it’s 25%. “

Bui says his cafe, Oscarinos Espresso, was once thriving, supplied by customers from surrounding office buildings that are still largely empty.

She had to lay off five employees and work herself to keep the cafe going, but she bet the local economy will rebound soon.

“I am so disappointed and worried about the future. We went from a business that made so much money to barely a day-to-day survival. I don’t want to close, but who knows?

As Sydney’s economy recovers from the extended Covid lockdown this year, business fortunes have been mixed in western Sydney, particularly in the 12 LGAs which have faced the most severe restrictions.

‘Barely surviving’: Oscarinos Espresso in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool. Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian

Most restrictions on fully vaccinated people were officially lifted on October 11, almost two months ago, but Bui believes Liverpool are still operating at around 20% of capacity.

Recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the areas that faced the most severe restrictions, some of the most diverse suburbs in the country, now have the highest unemployment rates in the city.

Three statistical districts in Sydney, the Inner Southwest, Southwest and Parramatta, accounted for nearly half of the city’s job losses in October.

The unemployment rate in the Interior Southwest was 8.8%, the highest in Sydney, while unemployment was 8% in the Southwest and 7.9% in Parramatta. By comparison, the broader unemployment rate for the city was 5.7% in October.

It’s part of the hangover of a tough, tough lockdown months, business leaders say.

And the ripple effects of these tougher restrictions are now being felt on businesses, as consumer confidence is affected by a lingering sense of caution.

Dimitri Karam, chairman of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said while some businesses, especially those that have adapted to the lockdown, were thriving, many were still struggling.

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“There are mixed feelings, emotions and results, and it all depends on consumer confidence,” he says.

“I have the impression that we are still living on edge, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we are one foot in and one foot out. Our two feet aren’t there yet, and that’s why you still see mixed feelings among businesses. “

Carla Filipakis, founder and owner of specialist extracurricular service provider Decorati, said business is gradually picking up.

“I think it gets better every week. But we’re just getting out of lockdown, and a lot of us haven’t really ventured too far. “

Decorati runs art and healthy eating programs in schools and children’s shopping malls, and has therefore been hit hard by the lockdown.

The Covid pandemic in Australia in 60 seconds: NSW and Sydney map - video
The Covid pandemic in Australia in 60 seconds: NSW and Sydney map – video

Filipakis says she’s getting more bookings and next year looks busier, but she warned many in western Sydney were still tired and cautious.

“A lot of independent traders or small businesses haven’t reopened, there is still a lot of anxiety around.”

The emotional scars left by the tougher restrictions, which included a curfew and travel limits, may take longer to heal.

“I think there are scars just in the fact that we woke up every day to hear about cases in our community. Many of us did the right thing, but still felt focused.

“I just feel like the restrictions have been lifted, but the community is in the same space.”

The state government seems to have little sympathy. West Sydney Minister Stuart Ayres told reporters last week the region had to let go of its “victimhood mentality”.

“I completely reject the idea that we live in a two-tier city,” he said. “The government made decisions to attack the virus where the virus was located. “

But community leaders insist that the lingering sense of division with the rest of the city and fears that the restrictions will come back have not only weighed on the economy, but have exacerbated other socio-economic challenges.

A report on the impacts of the lockdown, prepared by the Western Sydney Community Forum and Western Sydney Migrant Resource Center, found that the approach taken by authorities was having a negative impact on social cohesion.

Minh Bui in his cafe.
Minh Bui in his cafe. Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian

“Public discourse was seen by local communities as emphasizing respect and punishment rather than public health, resulting in increased social polarization,” the report read.

Dr Archana Voola, policy officer at the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Center, told Guardian Australia that the authorities’ approach exacerbated and exposed historic rates of inequality.

“The foundations already had cracks. And when there is an earthquake, these cracks will deepen. As it turns out, this intense crisis situation made it obvious.

In her research for the center, she spoke to community leaders from various walks of life about their concerns and hopes after the lockdown. Many raised lingering feelings of division in their communities.

“We always get questions from community leaders saying, what is the government doing to rectify this sense of division, what is the plan? Are the issues just going to be discussed and never rectified? ‘

“It’s going to stay on people’s minds, especially if you’re vulnerable. The last thing you want is to feel like you’re outside the circle. I guess this will stick in their memory for a while.

Voola helped write the CALD Pulse of South West Sydney CALD Community Center report, which is creating a “broken trust” among various communities and authorities.

She says the nature of the lockdown, with its sudden shutdown of services and defined definition of home, family and permitted travel, has hit vulnerable communities particularly hard.

“They still have a lot of mental health issues. They couldn’t cope, many in the community used words like stress, anxiety, sadness, depression, to describe being locked up and excluded from family, especially extended family.

The report also presents recommendations, including the introduction of funding models for better multicultural programs, the widening of access routes to employment and the development of improved health infrastructure.

“You have to invest in people and infrastructure. Because if you are just investing in infrastructure, the skills of the local people may not match, then again you have to bring in people from the outside to meet the needs of the industry.

The NSW government has announced a $ 5 billion WestInvest fund, but has yet to say where or how it will be spent. Ayres’ office did not respond when asked for details.

“We need more than words,” says Voola. “We need to see investment and infrastructure, we’re not just saying building the next club, we’re saying investing in cohesion, in the voices of the region.”

Despite the challenges facing West Sydney, she was optimistic about the future.

“I don’t think the community is sitting around thinking how terrible this has been every day. They don’t see it as a hopeless situation, they are resilient, they are already moving forward and higher.

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