Almost 24 hours after 3000 residents were locked inside their apartments in Flemington and North Melbourne, the residents phoning me have not been given any information or a central phone number to call for help.
We refer them first to the COVID-19 hotline, but they wait in a phone queue, unsure of whether food and necessities will be delivered to them.
An elderly woman is worried about her medication; a mother needs baby wipes; another mother has only one day remaining of special baby formula. Volunteers, including federal MP Bill Shorten, from surrounding Flemington, also in lockdown, assist with deliveries, but the situation is precarious.
Without warning or consultation, residents have been corralled into their homes by ranks of police, whose presence, while personable, is inescapably intimidating. They patrol the bottom of each building and the estate exits and entrances have been blocked.
Distribution of information to residents has been worryingly slow. The frantic co-ordination of testing and the scramble to support residents and clean buildings has left details unattended to and residents feeling panicked and isolated.
The gravity of the public health emergency in Melbourne is clearly understood, but reasons for the lock-up, quite distinct in effect from the neighbouring lockdown, are less well understood. Unambiguous information, in culturally appropriate languages, has been missing.
The decisive government response is imbued with a sense of heavy-handed unfairness reflective of far wider social chasms and economic and racial inequality. The scenario unfolding in Flemington has deep currents of neglect and disadvantage that are creating hazardous rips.
No other community has been treated this way, and those of us in the surrounding streets feel the strain of the blatant inequality.
While the immediate crisis of up to 30 positive COVID-19 cases across nine buildings erupted in the last week, the depth of the social inequality has been decades in gestation.
The Flemington and North Melbourne public housing estates are home to 3000 people - the majority of whom are migrants from the Horn of Africa, Vietnam and China, and who have arrived as refugees. Large families have grown up in three-bedroom apartments, and many children remain with their families into adulthood.
However, they are tired of being talked about as poor and needy. Residents are multilingual, resilient, loving, and welcoming to white "do-gooders" like me. Their skills and life experiences are frequently marginalised and undervalued.
As tenants of the state, they regularly feel powerless: their requests for support on many levels have been ignored for years. Elevators regularly break in the 20-storey towers, cars without registration are taken away, corridors are open-air and the July winds bite.
Now, with barricades of police forming, it is easy for the public housing residents to feel the state is further demonising, rather than protecting, them, despite the good intentions and sensitivities of all emergency personnel on site.
The intention is to test all residents and isolate anyone infected with COVID-19, yet there is also a lack of trust from some residents about the testing process. With tenancies and sometimes visas or employment at the mercy of the state, there is residual nervousness about providing personal details. Trust has been worn down over years of interactions with bureaucracies.
It's not always helpful, in the eye of a crisis, to point fingers and blame, but the fact that COVID-19 presented a particular threat to public housing residents should have caught no one by surprise. From their tinderbox, residents have been requesting help for months.
There has been little by way of a graduated public health response aimed at preventing the sudden emergency measures now in place. Residents asked for sanitiser and masks early on, and repeated these requests often. There were requests for information to be provided in a range of modes and languages - for people to go door-to-door reminding people to sanitise their hands before and after using lifts and stairs.
The government has now acted, but the ambush has left people reeling. No other community has been treated this way, and those of us in the surrounding streets feel the strain of the blatant inequality.
Whether this will work depends on the systems that are put in place to support the people who are now locked up. Attending to their safety and wellbeing is critical to both the immediate crisis and its longer-term impacts.
The residents of these Flemington and North Melbourne high-rises will live through a tougher week than every one of us living in various stages of lockdown nearby. While we all offer support now, it is an opportunity for the ongoing reality of public housing living to be understood - and improved.
Locking up people to keep them safe is a sickening way to be jolted into action on something as important as public housing.
- Rose Iser is a PhD candidate investigating multilingual education of African-Australian students and has worked with Flemington residents for two decades.