Public housing residents call on Victorian government to deal with COVID-19 humanely

The hard lockdown of the public housing tower in Flemington on July 5. Photo: Jack Strickney

The Victorian government’s July 10 decision to lift detention orders from eight of the nine public housing estates in Melbourne would not have been possible without the advocacy led by the communities that live across the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing estates, said Voices from the Blocks.

“In a matter of hours, we turned this crisis into victory, as the entire community came together, to support one another and speak up for each other. Our elected officials and funded institutions were not able to provide for our basic needs, so we did that,” residents said.

Residents, their families and the community managed a health emergency on their own.

They provided up-to-date information to 3000 people in 30 different languages within 24 hours, kept track of testing when there was no other agency doing so, coordinated a media response and encouraged people to get tested.

While Voices from the Blocks welcomes the announcement to lift the detention orders, the Victorian government still refuses to meet all of our key demands.

33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne still remains under detention orders, still requesting basic information about their situation and patrolled by police, that will be soon replaced by prison guards.

Residents, families and the community are firmly of the opinion that there is no need for police in a health crisis, especially while the same patterns of mismanagement and negligence continue with no clarity around access to personal protection equipment, interpreters, COVID-19 testing and how people who test positive for COVID-19 can access support.

Residents have reported that their calls to the 1800 961 054 hotline, set up by the Department of Health and Human Services, can take up to an hour to get through and many calls are left unanswered.

Detention orders are a health risk. Locking people in their homes without the ability to support one another, without access to their regular health services and the natural benefits of fresh air in a non-hostile environment, is a health risk.

Voices from the Blocks’ key demands on the Victorian government are:

1. To allow residents deemed as high risk to relocate with family and friends located outside the towers, until the period the COVID-19 crisis is deemed to be under control by an independent health body with experience in this field.

2. To create a committee made up of health experts, community members and residents, both under hard lockdown and in Stage 3, to coordinate the continued management of this COVID-19 crisis within the towers.

3. To establish clear two-way communication channels between residents in the towers and decision-makers in government.

4. To appoint an independent body of health experts, made up of specialists with experience in managing the complex tower situation, with the ultimate aim of reviewing and providing guidance on all health- and disease-related matters undertaken by the Department of Human Services prior to their implementation.

5. To implement infection prevention measures, such as regular disinfection and cleaning of communal spaces and the distribution of masks, for the foreseeable future, until a COVID-19 vaccine is available or an independent health body deems the COVID-19 risk within the towers does not require such action.

6. To guarantee COVID-19 testing is carried out at the door of a resident’s apartment, instead of in the foyer, for those under hard lockdown.

7. To coordinate services in support of current community led activities that are responding to residents’ food, medical, financial, mental health and social service needs.

 [This has been slightly abridged from a Voices from the Blocks statement issued on July 10.]

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