Only the poorest of the poor end up in these tower blocks but many choose to stay on once they have proper jobs and are established.
This is such an important piece to read. It comes to us from Lisa Peters, one of nurses who helped with the community housing testing. Eye opening.
“Today I have time to think and recall, so I want to clear up some misconceptions of the Covid19 lockdowns in the public towers. You, my family and friends have shown so much concern and support, and this is also a great debriefing for me. This is probably jumbled to read, but whilst things are fresh in my mind I wanted to write it down.
The last few days have been a plethora of emotions and a humbling experience. After working with the community for Covid19 testing, I was unsure what we would experience at the public housing towers, where they were under total lockdown. The media had portrayed them as being full of hostility, drug and alcohol concerns, and as I saw it, a frightening place to go. They had shown residents pleading for help for food and basic supplies, protests and a lot of anger.
Over the last few days, our amazing team from Knox attended the towers in Flemington and North Melbourne. When I first arrived and found the massive police presence and strict lock down, my heart was in my mouth. I have not been exposed to public housing, violence or police incidents. The media were set up outside in the roads and I was reminded of the news stories I had seen. We were guided in to don our PPE and then our teams were the first to be gathered to start working our way through each floor.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity whilst the logistics of the police accompanying us were coordinated. We were in teams of two nurses and two police and had a trolley set up with all our needs. Its weird, as this trolley became “ours” and was part of our team and we were so protective of it. At one stage we had to leave it downstairs when we doffed and had a quick break for a drink in a different building. We entrusted the police to guard it. Well that didn’t work as when we got back a box of gloves was gone. From then on, for the next two days we placed a piece of paper with “Fiona and Lisa’s trolley, please do not touch”. I’m sure there is a psychological reason for this attachment as we became very possessive.
We were given a list of residents on each floor and started at the first apartment and continued until the last had been visited on each floor. The tests were purely voluntary, yet not one resident said no. They were incredibly thankful, respectful and grateful for us being there. We started writing our names on our gowns as we were wearing full PPE and all they could see were our eyes. The police stood back away from them and us, showing the same respect and kindness at every door we knocked at.
At every apartment, we asked are you okay? Do you have enough food, do you need any medications, is there anything we can do to help? There were some very simple requests, lactose free milk, an onion and tomato, dish-washing detergent, sanitary pads and toothpaste. We could see the bags and boxes of food delivered to them in the foyers, under tents outside, outside their doorways, inside their rooms. One man told us they had never had this much meat before, with the biggest smile on his face.
After each floor was completed, we came back down to “doff” which is to remove our PPE in a particular way to not contaminate ourselves or others. We had teams of paramedics to assist with each step. They possibly thought their job was insignificant, but it was just as important as ours. One little break in our PPE and we could become the next cause of community transmission. With that weighing on my mind, and of course the safety of our immediate family, I have never been so anxious about doffing in my decades of nursing! The police were guided as well and they too were grateful as I’m sure they were as anxious as we were.
We then cleaned and restocked our trolley, donned PPE and set off again with a new list and more amazing and beautiful residents to test. At one stage on the first day when we were donned waiting to go in, I looked up at the frightened people on the third-floor balconies watching us from behind the glass. We sent the biggest, animated kisses with both hands to them and they were delighted! We continued to blow kisses backwards and forwards and it made my heart so full knowing that they knew we really do care.
The first day we worked there was no food available at a quick lunch break as it had all been eaten. There were a lot of hungry nurses lol. There were 10 teams of us who agreed to stay on and try and get through the swabbing, and we swabbed until 9pm. We had to stop as its unfair on the residents to keep going later than that. We were disappointed to find there were a couple of floors left, but we had done each building at Flemington Road towers by then, an amazing effort by so many.
Yesterday was the North Melbourne towers. We attended 3 different towers. The first one the lift was broken. We were meant to start at 18th floor. I said I could go up the stairs for a few floors, but not many as we had to carry our trolleys with us. We were lucky to have the first floor and when we had finished there, the lift was fixed.
Again, the residents were so grateful for being tested. They were so worried for their health and that of their families. They proudly showed their negative results on the texts on their phones and wanted to be tested again as that was a week ago. Most were worried about not being able to go to work and support their families or lose their jobs. For many there were single parents because the spouse had been locked out, some had nieces, nephews, cousins etc that had been locked in. There were some laughs at not knowing the birth dates of these young relatives. These people had simple requests as well. We were so lucky to have a social worker with us yesterday as she was able to arrange what was needed then and there.
My heart was full when I left thanks to the “I love you” said to us, the constant thanks and displays of gratitude. We were invited into many homes, even offered a tea or coffee. I went into a few rooms with elderly, frail and young children. This was optional and only if we felt safe. We did, we felt like guests. I saw many, many boxes of food and supplies at the three towers we attended yesterday.
I have so many wonderful memories of the last few days, none were bad, they were all positive. So please understand that whatever the media portrays is not necessarily true. We were there with firsthand experience. The wheels are in motion to support these people, maybe it was slow to happen, but from what I saw it has now been put in place. There are translators, social workers, support systems and many resources out there.
I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the most incredible nurses from Knox that I have had the honour to work alongside. We have supported each other and together we have made an incredible difference to these peoples lives. I am so honored to be a nurse and have each of your backs, as you have mine!
Feel free to share x”