Meet the separated families of the Melbourne public housing towers

Children from a window inside a unit at the public housing tower along Racecourse Road in Melbourne. Source: AAP

The hard lockdown announced last Saturday saw 3,000 people restricted to their homes, banned from travelling under any circumstances. The lockdown has seen some families separated.

The hard lockdown in the nine public housing towers in Flemington, North Melbourne, and Kensington has seen some families separated.

Adut*, a mother of four young children, prior to the lockdown sent three of her children for a holiday with their father. But as they were arriving back from their break during school holidays, their flat in Flemington's public housing estate was locked down.

"They were supposed to come Sunday. But they told them they are not allowed to. They're not allowed to bring my kids in my building. Because I've been locked up," Adut told The Feed.

Of the four children, three are away with their father. Adut is separated from her husband, and the three oldest were on a weekend visit with their dad. The youngest is with Adut -- her children are aged 14, 10, 8 and the youngest is two-years-old.

"I miss my kids. My kids can't come to me and I can't go anywhere to see them," she said.

"That's why right now [I'm] so stressed," she said, "My kids they see the stories, they hear the news, they see our area's been locked up. They say, 'Mum we wish we were there in the house so we can be together'."

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The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Tuesday that metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire will be under stay at home restrictions from 11:59 pm on Wednesday, July 8.

The restrictions will take the specified areas back to stage three of restrictions. There will only be four reasons to leave home which include: "Shopping for food and essential items. Care and caregiving. Daily exercise. Work and study – if you can't do it from home."

Late Wednesday night, Victoria's health department released a statement about detailing that all 3,000 residents of the public housing towers have been tested.

"We will have those results by tomorrow and will let you know what they mean for you," the health department said.

"Until we have those results and develop a clear plan to support anyone who tests positive or is a close contact, you will need to remain in your home."

Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement on Sunday explaining the hard lockdown, “Our priority was to make the hard decisions to fight this virus and keep the community safe, and now we’re supporting those Victorians who’ve made this possible.”

It’s left residents in the housing estates confused and frustrated about when they will be able to reconnect with their families. 

“First of all, they tell us we're going to be [in lockdown] for five days only. And then they tell us it’s 14 days, we're going to be locked up. So we don't know what's going to happen after all these days,” Adut said. 

Adut’s is with her youngest son who is two-years-old. She believes he feels lonely without his siblings close to him. He calls out his sibling’s names but they aren’t around to answer Adut said this is distressing.

“So I don't know how we're gonna fix up this thing because my son is crying but I can't do anything. We want to be like one family.”

Voices from the Blocks -- a coalition of residents, family and community members from the public housing estates -- told The Feed their group includes some of the families who have been separated.  

“Others in our group have listened to the cries of their neighbours and heard their distress at not knowing when they will see their children, loved ones and family members again,” a spokesperson said. 

“From those directly impacted to those who have borne witness to these deeply upsetting separations this will have a lasting impact on families; this trauma never needed to happen.”

"If he came home he wouldn't be able to provide. And if he's out there, he's not able to be with his children"

In North Melbourne, Bilan Hersi's father was working on Saturday when the lockdown was announced. It was 4 pm in the afternoon, and her father had to make a choice about whether he was going to rush home to be with his wife and children or work to provide for them.

"My Dad [has] been put in a really hard predicament where he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't," Bilan told The Feed.

"If he came home he wouldn't be able to provide. And if he's out there, he's not able to be with his children during this hard time."

A view of one of the public housing towers in North Melbourne, Tuesday, July 7, 2020
A view of one of the public housing towers in North Melbourne, Tuesday, July 7, 2020
AAP

Bilan's father is staying with his friend but he's not been able to visit his flat in North Melbourne since he went to work on Saturday.

"He wasn't able to come home and get anything. No toothbrush, clothes, any necessities he needed. He literally just had to go straight there to his friend's house," she said.

Bilan, 22, has four siblings who are seven, six, four, and the youngest is one-years-old. The time away from their father has impacted them, Bilan said.

"I can tell, definitely, they've been more antsy, acting out a little bit more," she said, "because they're so close to my dad every time he comes home, they rush to the door screaming as if they haven't seen him for weeks."

Bilan shares Adut's confusion over the process of the lockdown.

“So it's just really stressful to think about how long it will be because there hasn't been much communication at all. And promises haven't been kept.” 

While talking about the testing process in the towers, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said, "I again say to every single resident in those towers, you will be under these restrictions for not a moment longer than you need to be."

Once the tests have been returned, residents in the public housing towers are expected to be under stage three restrictions.

Bilan said the stress of taking care of the young children is compounded by things "falling apart in the house".

"My door just came off the hinges on Tuesday night, and we were scrambling trying to figure out how to do that. Usually, that was something he would be able to do," she said.

door
Bilan's room door at her flat.
Supplied

The conversations Bilan might be having with her young siblings are becoming a tough day to day issue. From questions about why are the police at our building, why can't we use the lift, to why we are running out of resources.

But the question Bilan daunts the most, she says is "why isn't Dad able to come home."

The Feed contacted the Department of Health and Human Services for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

*Name has been changed 

Residents in Melbourne public housing towers who need access to support and assistance should call the Housing Call Centre on 1800 961 054. If you need a translator, first call 131 450. Both services are 24/7. More information can be found here.


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