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When thousands of people living in nine public housing towers across Flemington and North Melbourne were placed under a ‘hard lockdown’ in early July as a response to COVID-19, Berry Street was called on by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to help.

So far Berry Street has responded to 600 calls from distressed tenants needing crisis support.

Crisis response team formed in just 24 hours

Over the course of one day, Berry Street pulled together a team of 20 staff to provide critical assistance to tower residents calling a dedicated support hotline. The team managed a gruelling 7-day roster from 8am to 8pm with a team member on call after hours every day. This ensured that residents’ calls were responded to efficiently and empathetically whenever they needed help.

Support offered included practical assistance (for example organising food and medication deliveries), connection to other specialist services, and general check-ins on welfare. No matter what help was required, Berry Street staff provided a safe space where they shared humanity, compassion and empathy with residents.

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Challenges faced in hard lockdown

While the need to act quickly to prevent further infections was understandable, the swift nature of the response was highly distressing and did not allow tenants time to prepare, mentally or practically, adding a sense of injustice to an already traumatic situation.

The tenants faced many challenges:

  • trouble accessing food, medical care, support, and clearly translated information due to having no advance warning
  • a high police presence which, although necessary, created a degree of fear and uneasiness
  • children visiting relatives and friends at the time of lockdown were separated from their families which caused significant distress
  • tenants who were not at home during lockdown were unable to return, for example one tenant had to sleep in her car during the five days of lockdown
  • many residents’ mental health and wellbeing suffered
  • residents were unable to work and faced significant financial stress as a result with many unable to access government support quickly enough
  • visitors were stuck in the towers alongside residents for the duration of the lockdown.

In some cases, children were separated from their mothers while visiting grandparents in other towers. We worked closely with these families and DHHS to help reunite families.

A response to be proud of

Oya Adem, Senior Manager for Home Based Care and a key part of our tower response team, said she is extremely proud of the team’s work.

Throughout this time, the team treated the residents and each other with respect and empathy. The positive outcomes that were achieved are a testament to the collaboration between staff, DHHS and other services on the ground. Most of all, we are humbled and privileged to have offered support to the residents of the towers.”

Oya Adem Senior Manager for Home Based Care

We thank all our staff and supporters who have enabled us to respond quickly to the urgent needs of Victorians at this time.

View COVID-19 resources to help you support children and young people in your life.

Find out more about our response in the face of COVID-19.