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Author Topic: Sex, guns and ice at Australia’s most notorious high-rises  (Read 296 times)


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Sex, guns and ice at Australia’s most notorious high-rises
« on: February 14, 2018, 03:12:40 PM »
Sex, guns and ice at Australia’s most notorious high-rises

NEEDLES, ice-dealing, violence, sex work — but a sense of community. This is what it’s like to live in a public housing tower.

“THAT needle smell.” Marie Delmar winces as she sniffs the rancid air in the stairwell of the 17-storey high-rise she calls home. “It’s blood, I can smell blood.”

The graffiti-covered stairs of Kendall Towers are where the drug addicts go to shoot up or smoke meth, and the overpowering stench only gets worse as we climb higher. We see a syringe stuck into a pipe near the ceiling, and pass a shifty looking man who hastily hides a spoon used for inhaling methamphetamines behind his back. The sex work happens at the very top.

“People who just want money, they hang around in the stairs and if someone wants sex, they go there,” Marie, who has lived at the block in Sydney’s Redfern for almost 40 years, explains.

“They’re young kids, it’s just so upsetting, young kids who want money. They’ll do anything for it. They’re usually taking some sort of drugs. They don’t live here, they come here to work.”

The 59-year-old has seen a strung-out boy who looked as young as 14 hanging around up here, and as a mother, she says, that’s hard to take. One tenant’s ice-addicted girlfriend repeatedly set light to his unit to get hold of drugs until she was banned from the building. There are fires all the time.

Waiflike, wide-eyed Marie is sweetly concerned for my welfare as I visit tenants in the city’s tallest towers to find out more about life in public housing today. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” she says nervously, peering out into the stairwell. She’s more relaxed about her own safety, bounding up to drug users and mentally ill neighbours to pepper them with questions about the building’s condition. One tells us he’s locked in a battle with bedbugs and that cockroaches are nesting in his cupboards, but proudly flings open the door to his “penthouse suite” on the top floor, a piece of fabric hung over the window. “It’s fantastic,” he says.


Marie sees herself as an unthreatening, helpful neighbour. But even she knows her limits.

A 40-year-old drug dealer with schizophrenia used to live across the hall, his door scrawled with “ICE HERE” and “F*** OFF”, and her sleep was constantly broken by loud music, knocks on his door and screaming arguments.

One day, she got up to ask for quiet, but something about the man standing by the door made her retreat. It looked like he was stroking a gun in his pocket. Later, the neighbour told her the man was one of Sydney’s biggest ice dealers.

Marie broke down in tears of gratitude when she heard Rob was being moved on after “10 years of hell”, but the pattern continues: now an alcoholic on the third floor is doing the same. “He’s easily taken advantage of so they use the unit to do the selling,” she says. “He’s drunk 24 hours a day, that’s the worry. The drug dealing that goes on, he lets every homeless person come up. We’ve been reporting him for over seven years: the music, the shocking violent fights, the yelling, the screaming that comes out of that unit. It can be day and night, 24 hours, he’s a real problem tenant.”

Marie has done all she can to make her unit look pretty. She has two tropical fish and has decorated everything in pink. She says the only thing that’s been added to the place is the lino flooring. “We had the option of a new kitchen or lino,” she says. “That’s the only thing we’ve got in 39 years.” There was a window in the bathroom, but it’s been boarded up because of all the break-ins. A man known as Spider-Man used to make it the highest — to level 10, to reach the apartment of an attractive aerobics instructor.

Outside, a man is rummaging through the skip. For a while, there was hoarder on level five, and the stink from her house travelled along the whole floor. “I was heaving, it was unbearable, it smelt so bad, like five-year-old excrement, that’s what it was, it got into your throat, this smell,” says Marie. “There was a cat that had died under there, rubbish that was months old. They finally called the Salvation Army to get all out. Apparently, she was transferred here because she’d done it somewhere else. They’re not managing it, just moving her.”


The neglect at Kendall is evident everywhere we turn. Wires spilling out of the ceiling near the electricity box, a dripping tap in the laundry, broken doors, and drug paraphernalia dumped beside the fire hoses. The hoses now have to be switched on elsewhere, Marie’s not sure where, because “vindictive people were flooding all the units”.

A NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) spokeswoman told it has maintenance contractors to do scheduled cleaning of tower blocks, including daily internal and external cleaning and maintenance of common areas, lawns and grounds areas.

In the past two years, the department has introduced 24/7 building security and front desk services, fob key building access to restrict entry.

A RedLink Integrated Service Centre, to provide residents with legal and financial assistance, tenant advocacy, social groups and a soup kitchen, was also opened on the site.

Following the devastating blaze in London’s Grenfell Tower, there have been meetings with fire safety teams, emergency services and Housing NSW at all the blocks I visit, in an effort to calm residents’ anxieties.

The department confirmed properties do not use the combustible composite aluminium cladding for external facades that contributed to the blaze at London’s Grenfell Tower.

Properties are fitted with smoke alarms and tower blocks have sprinklers, hydrants, alarms, fire hoses and compartmentalisation to prevent fire from spreading.

A “sharps graph” has been distributed to tenants at Kendall, showing how the cleaners are keeping the needle issue under control. It doesn’t seem like enough.

These days, Marie doesn’t come back home after 4.30pm. “I’ve had too many experiences, people try to grab my purse or a few people approach me. They’re on the prowl looking for money. It’s lodged in my mind, there’s something about 4.30.

William Morgan, 61, on the fourth floor, has taped up his bathroom ceiling with duct tape. It has been peeling and leaking beside a bare light bulb for a year, since the man upstairs flooded his unit. “I had to sit there with an umbrella,” he says, pointing to the toilet, which is also leaking. Mould is seeping out from William’s apartment into the corridor. Marie has called to report it, but nothing has been done.

“I know we don’t pay a huge rent but like me, I’ve worked all my life,” she says. “I’m starting to wonder if housing is running out of money, it never used to look like this. Maybe there’s nothing left.”

There used to be hundreds of families here but they seem to have evaporated, although the kindergarten is just next door. “We were without power for three weeks in the corridor about a week ago; the lady downstairs has two kids. I get a glimmer of light, but she doesn’t. It would stay in their memory of childhood: power-outs and needles.”


This is ordinary life for many in high-rise public housing in New South Wales and around Australia. The tenants are philosophical about the consequences of having so many people living below the poverty line or tackling substance abuse and mental health issues in such proximity.

All human life is here. At nearby Northcott, the infamous “Suicide Towers” in affluent Surry Hills, Alison George has seen more dead bodies than most. “It’s got worse because of ice,” the 76-year-old tells “The last one was probably last year, the body had dented a car and was under a sheet. They either jumped or were pushed.”

She shows me photos on her phone of the belongings her drug-addicted neighbour threw out of his window — syringes, parts of a bed, a crutch. Bags of his rubbish fill the communal area near her door.

There have been many murders here over the years — shootings, two beheadings and a dismembered body dumped in a bath. But Alison is beyond feeling scared. She escaped an abusive home life in Queensland, and has grown used to Northcott, with its former prison inmates, their spotless units devoid of furniture; the homeless visitors and people everywhere battling their own mental health issues.

When we visit, she is taking part in an exercise class at the community centre while other tenants serve soup from a hatch.

One of the volunteers, Graham Brecht, 62, says he’s encountered gangs of 12 dealers, faced a sexual advance and been forced to steer his young visiting nephew away from a body. But, for a block of 436 units housing 1200 people, he believes “it works.”

FACS said it was working with agencies including NSW Police, St Vincent’s Mental Health and the Kirketon Road Centre to improve the security and amenities in the Northcott Estate.

“To date, 200 security cameras have been installed at Northcott to monitor activity in the foyers and fire stairs. These are monitored onsite and all incidents are reported to the local FACS Housing office,” the FACS spokeswoman said.

New fobs are being issued to all Northcott tenants, which will restrict access to their floors only.


The wind is howling and whistling around the 14-storey tower. At night, says 12th-floor resident Charmaine Jones, it sways in the wind and “makes noises like people rolling bowling balls.”

Charmaine runs community group Inner Sydney Voice. “The nature of public housing is you are going to have people with complex issues,” she says. “You see these people all the time because you get in lift with them. For all its complexities, it’s a strong and resilient place.”

Alison agrees. “Some people trash it, the mentally ill, people with drug problems,” she says. “Drugs have become a problem.

“The cleaning budget has got smaller and smaller and the needed for cleaning has increased.

“But just because you’re living in a tower block doesn’t mean there’s not a community. People don’t want the community broken up.”


That’s what’s happening in nearby Waterloo, where tower blocks Turanga, Matavai, Cook, Solander, Marton and Banks are due to be demolished to make way for a metro station and shopping precinct. These high-rises were also nicknamed “Suicide Towers” in the past, and had a reputation for squatters, vandals and ice-fuelled violence.

The concierges, gentrification and a greater police presence have made it feel far safer. Now, residents are desperate to stay. They’ve been promised they will be returned to new public housing afterwards, but they aren’t sure whether to believe it. From September 9, they will illuminate the windows of the towers with multicoloured lights as part of a campaign called “We Live Here”.

Affie Adagio — a former community worker who lives on level 8 of Turanga in an apartment crammed with belongings, two cats and a dog — is taking it in her stride. “The ageing population is increasing, they’ve got to do something to make it affordable,” says the 73-year-old. “I land on my feet. I’m one of those people that believe the redevelopment will be good for Waterloo and public housing.

“There are units that are in a terrible state ... one room units two people use as a bedroom, dining, living room, and it’s small. I have a friend on the sixth floor, in her unit, the tiles in the kitchen are falling apart, there was water leakage and for a year she had asked for them to come and fix it. All of us have asked for the windows at least once a year to be washed.

“The problems are the same as anywhere else. I had my own unit in Potts Point and in that block of units we had drug addicts, we had violent people.

“Anywhere you live you will have troublemakers, violent people and good people.”

Those living in the run-down, low-rise “walk-ins” will be moved first. Some have agreed to be moved west to free up some of this prime real estate for private housing. The final residents are not due to move for ten years.

The FACS spokeswoman said the redevelopment of the Waterloo estate was currently in a planning phase.

“The first relocations will not commence before mid-2018. There will be no loss of social housing and all residents will have the right to return to the Waterloo Estate,” she said.

“The intention is for the majority of residents to be able to move from their current homes directly into new social housing, as buildings are completed.”

She said there would be 23,500 new and replacement social and affordable housing dwellings built over the next 10 years with a focus on mixed public and private dwellings.


Meanwhile an action group at Waterloo meets weekly as they try to protect the elderly and disabled long-timers who face being forced out. “They’re selling off family homes for $1.8 million saying they’re ‘beyond repair’,” says Waterloo Public Housing Action Group chair Richard Weeks. “They won’t be replaced. We have 60,000 on the waiting list.

“They’re decreasing the housing stock. They’ll give back 30 per cent, the rest will be private. We’re talking social and private mixed. It won’t work. They won’t want to live next door to someone with mental health issues.

“We’ll lose all our green space. Some people won’t even see sunlight. It’s a debacle.

“People are here because of special circumstances. The community keeps them together, especially elderly people, they feel better off than if they were staring at the wall in a nursing home.”

At the meeting, a man in a black beanie raises his hand. “Why move a person to new accommodation and then back to the old?” he asks. “It’s moving people around as if they’re objects that can just be slotted in. People are people.”

Anna Kovic, an 80-year-old who was the fifth person to move to Solander 45 years ago, says it’s the uncertainty that’s the hardest. “They say maybe they will shift me somewhere else then put me back,” she says.

“I go to bed thinking, ‘Where will they put me? What will happen to me?’”

Definition of Hats aka "Conflict of Interest" Statement: Mary-Jane is Editor of Perth Gay News, The Media Annuncio of the Perth Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence of the Abbey of the Black Swan & Editor @ HIV Institute of WA.

#Twitter @AbbeyBlackSwan1

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Sex, guns and ice at Australia’s most notorious high-rises
« on: February 14, 2018, 03:12:40 PM »