Saturday, August 8, 2020

Melbourne Public Housing Tower resident says community is ‘treated like criminals’ in coronavirus shutdown

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It was only when Tekeste Hailu tried to leave his building that he realized that he was one of the 3,000 people in compulsory detention.

Mr. Hailu, 27, lives with his grandmother in social housing on Racecourse Rd, one of nine buildings in Melbourne that was suddenly “locked in” Saturday afternoon.

But the first Mr. Hailu was informed when he tried to leave to buy groceries, to be greeted by “the whole building surrounded by police”.

“I think, what’s going on, is someone dead or something?” he said.

The strict restrictions are due to an increase in cases of coronavirus in social housing towers, which have 1,345 units.

We can see people gesturing through the windows of their homes.
Most buildings house hundreds of people in tall buildings.(ABC News: Dan Harrison)

“It is not only a case of 23 to 30 people, it is a case of several hundred who have already been exposed and who may already be incubating,” said the deputy director general of health, Annaliese van Diemen.

Premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement with Housing Minister Richard Wynne.

Other residents received a text message shortly before 5:00 p.m. informing them that two new postal codes, 3031 and 3051, had been placed under the home stay plan from midnight that night.

Residents of Kensington, Flemington and North Melbourne will join 36 other suburbs to return under stage three restrictions.

But for those who live in the nine towers, an even stricter “hard lock” had already started from 4:00 p.m.

Girmay Mengesha, who lives in one of the towers on the same road as Mr. Hailu, said he was happy to comply with the new orders, but was frustrated by the lack of communication and warning.

A policewoman talks to a man through the window of his car.  Police cars can be seen in the background.A policewoman talks to a man through the window of his car.  Police cars can be seen in the background.
The police spoke to residents when they returned home.(PAA: David Crosling)

“The way they mobilized the police … meant that they already knew,” said Mengesha.

“Why didn’t they tell us?”

He also said that he felt that the other residents of his suburbs had more time.

The towers will be fully locked for at least five days while health officials attempt to test each resident and assess the results.

Massive police efforts to enforce the lockdown will involve approximately 500 police officers per shift and will see officers stationed on most floors.

“We are treated like criminals, and they only target apartments, I don’t understand why this is a major target,” said Hailu.

“Most of the time, the people who live in the apartments are immigrants. I just want to, why only us? Why are they targeting us?”

Strong police presence “will trigger a lot of trauma”

Mr. Hailu, student and worker, emigrated to Melbourne from East Africa in 2010.

He said that many young people of African descent in his community were afraid of the police after recently focusing on “African gangs”.

Police wearing face masks walk in front of a social housing building.Police wearing face masks walk in front of a social housing building.
The policy will be in effect inside and outside public subdivisions.(PAA: David Crosling)

“Especially with what is happening in the current situation with the police and the African environment, all young people are very terrified of the police,” said Mr. Hailu.

Concerns were also expressed regarding the lack of information in languages ​​other than English.

Late Saturday night, Hailu said he had not yet seen professional health workers, social workers or interpreters to support the hundreds of residents in his building.

Police are pictured in a grainy image of a Flemington apartment.Police are pictured in a grainy image of a Flemington apartment.
The view of Tekeste Hailu’s Flemington unit on Saturday evening.(Provided: Tekeste Hailu)

He said that many people would gladly have been tested and would have stayed at home if asked “instead of bombarding us with 500 police at a time and locking us up”.

“There was no time to have air or anything, basic human rights. No food, nothing, they just sent us into detention for five days,” he said. .

Residents who spoke to the CBA said they did not know what type of financial compensation they would receive for missing work or education.

Mengesha, who was removed from office in Qantas earlier this year, said he did not know if he would be paid for the casual shifts he was scheduled to perform at Woolworths Monday through Friday.

Hailu said it was “terrifying” to know that many people had been exposed to the virus and worried about his 73-year-old grandmother.

“It is quite disturbing … because she is in danger more than I am,” he said.

But he said there could have been a different system to manage the increase in cases, with a greater emphasis on integrating health workers into the community.

A police bus can be seen outside a public housing tower on Racecourse Road, Flemington, Melbourne.A police bus can be seen outside a public housing tower on Racecourse Road, Flemington, Melbourne.
A drug bus was parked in front of the Racecourse Rd towers.(ABC News: Dan Harrison)

Dr van Diemen said that living in tight quarters and using shared facilities made transmission in buildings more likely than in other places.

She said authorities feared there could be an “explosion of infections in a very vulnerable community and very high rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to the general health of many people in these towers. “

Victorian Public Tenants Association chief executive Mark Feenane expressed concern about the overcrowding that was causing the virus to spread.

Jenny, a resident of one of the towers in North Melbourne, said that physical distance was almost impossible in her building.

Residents of three separate towers said that it is common for elevators in tall buildings to fail regularly, which meant that there were hundreds of residents able to climb up and down the buildings.

Jenny said that she took the stairs because she was “fit and young”, but that was impossible for many others.

In a statement, the Minister of Housing said that, while the immediate focus was on the health response, attention was now turning to “comprehensive support” for people living in the areas.

“This includes medical care, mental health supports, as well as essentials like food and essentials. We already have support staff and social workers on hand to make sure no one is lacking in these necessities. base, “said Wynne.

“To the Victorians who live in these areas, we will do our best to support you in this very difficult time.”

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