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Respecting dignity during public housing lockdown

  • 07 July 2020
The public housing lockdown announcement on Saturday took me straight back to 2007, when I was working at the base of the Flemington public housing estates, running programs with children and young people. The kids could all speak multiple languages and introduced me, a Northeast Victoria raised AFL hardliner, to soccer. Many of those kids lived three or so to a room, and spent as much time as possible outside on the oval, or in the nearby parks. They adored particular teachers at the local school and their homework club leaders, who would help them with their studies with respect to their dreams and aspirations, which they would tell me all about. They didn’t, along with many of the older residents I worked with in other programs, think much of the police.

It is important that we pay particular attention to the nature of how these lockdowns unfold and how they are handled, as they affect some of the most marginalised and vulnerable members of our communities in the state.

This decision to lockdown particular public housing towers over the weekend by the Victorian Government has clearly been made swiftly and with the intention to benefit public health — both the health of tenants of these buildings and the health of all of us in Victoria. Many of us, of course including residents of the towers, understand the exceptional response that COVID-19 has required, and that these lockdowns form a part of the response. But when the situation has meant that people must, unless there are exceptional personal or medical grounds, remain house-bound for at least five days, we must be careful in the way we go about caring for the health of people.

Like me, Richard Wynne MP — our Victorian Minister for Housing, has also spent time working with the communities who live in the Flemington and North Melbourne public housing towers. I am grateful that a number of decision makers throughout government have knowledge of and direct experience working with residents of the affected communities.

This means that the government knows, at some level, that residents are resilient and creative, but also that many struggle with a range of complex issues. They know that the lockdown could put many people in a particularly difficult situation if they do not have secure employment, or if they have complex health needs, or if they suffer from mental illness, or if they have