Community rooms will finally reopen for public housing residents

Community rooms will finally reopen for public housing residents
Ellen Sandell

Every Friday at 7pm, local Eritrean women gather in the community room at 503 Lygon St in Carlton. The regular meet-up is run by the Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre and provides an opportunity for women to meet, make friends, share stories and support one another.

At least, this is what happened before March 2020.

When the pandemic started, we all had to sacrifice doing some of the things we loved for the safety of our communities. But while pubs, theatres, cinemas, libraries and football have been open for months, community rooms in Melbourne’s public housing buildings have been closed for more than two years.

Until now.

After months of pressure from residents and myself, the state government has finally announced that community rooms in public housing buildings will reopen on April 19. This will be a big relief to the many residents who use these spaces for social activities and to access support programs.

The Eritrean women’s group is just one of the regular activities that has been put on hold since the pandemic started. The Kensington Chinese Friendship Group – a social gathering for mainly Mandarin-speaking seniors – has been unable to use the community room at the Ormond St public housing estate for two years now. The Kensington Neighbourhood House’s study support program – which helps more than 50 primary and high school students with their studies – has had to move its program to a different location, making it harder for families to access it.

There are more than a dozen other community groups and programs I could name that have been in limbo for two years now. Many of the groups cater to residents who do not have access to, or the skills to use, technology like Zoom to socialise online. Residents have either had to pay hefty fees to access other facilities, or because most of them can’t afford it, they have just cancelled their activities altogether.

After months of lobbying from my office and the local community (and after some strategic questions by the media!) we were recently successful! The state government has finally agreed to reopen these community rooms.

It’s great news – but considering pubs, restaurants and theatres have been open for months, it does seem like public housing residents are again at the bottom of this state government’s priority list. This needs to change.

One of the other issues I’m currently working on is lobbying the state government to fund free Wi-Fi in public housing towers, given that so many kids missed out on learning during the pandemic due to lack of internet or data access (even if they had a device from their school). I’ve also been calling for increased on-site mental health support for public housing residents, who often simply cannot access private services.

We are so lucky to have such a thriving, diverse community here in inner Melbourne, and we need to make sure no-one in our community gets left behind.
If there is ever anything that I can do to help you, please get in touch: [email protected]

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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