‘Like a lunatic asylum’: Inside Australia’s worst address
AS SYDNEY'S cafes start to fill up with Sunday crowds, chaos has already started to erupt in one of the city's most notorious public housing blocks, which has cast a darkened shadow over the fringes of Redfern for decades.
A 52-year-old man has barricaded himself inside his apartment with a weapon and threatened to kill himself. New South Wales Police officers swoop on the site and a siege ensues until the man finally surrenders about 1.20pm, on January 20. He's arrested without incident and "conveyed to hospital for an assessment".
But not all calls that police respond to at the site over the next few hours end as well.
Before the day is over, Jimm Wallace Kihara, 45, allegedly throws a 39-year-old woman off his first floor balcony. She smashes into the concrete below and sustains serious injuries, including multiple fractures, about 9.20pm.
When emergency services attend, a 34-year-old man, in a third unrelated incident, allegedly wields a cricket bat and unleashes his fury on a parked police car in an unprovoked attack. He's arrested and taken for a mental health assessment before being charged with malicious damage.
Meanwhile, officers roll out police tape and set up a crime scene where the woman who was lobbed off the balcony landed, as she's taken to hospital in a stable condition. Within hours, the man accused of carrying out the attack is charged with causing wounding/grievous bodily harm to person with intent to murder and later refused bail to next appear in court in March.
It's just another day in Kendall tower - one of three identical public housing blocks on Morehead St in Redfern. The high density towers of about 600 households make up a place of poverty, dysfunction and entrenched disadvantage dumped in the middle of one of Sydney's inner city suburbs.
Top floor apartments boast sweeping views of the city's skyline. But the outward splendour is a far cry from the violence, drugs, alcohol abuse, vandalism, anti-social behaviour and tragedy that has plagued the lives of many who reside inside the block.
The 17 storey buildings are most commonly known as the Three Sisters but have also earned the nickname "suicide towers" because of the numerous residents who have met non-suspicious, untimely deaths on site.
A diverse mix of residents including pensioners, low income earners and the unemployed, criminals, former prisoners and drug addicts, call this place home. The majority of residents are aged over 50 and many have nowhere else to go.
'AT NIGHT IT GETS EVEN WORSE'
During news.com.au's visit to the block on Tuesday morning - about 48 hours after the flurry of activity on Sunday - a man lets out a bloodcurdling scream.
"You f***ing junkie dog," he yells from his balcony at a person in the distance.
A long-term resident who speaks to news.com.au on the condition of anonymity barely flinches and sips his morning coffee as the screaming continues.
"You get used to it," the man in his 60s says.
"There's yelling and screaming most days but at night it gets even worse.
"They're normally fighting over money and drugs."
Another resident tells news.com.au she lives "in constant fear of being targeted". She also doesn't want to be identified in case of reprisals.
"At times it's like a lunatic asylum here," she says.
"I step out on my balcony and see more for free than you'd get paying to see a horror movie.
"But I've given up calling cops unless it sounds like someone is genuinely being murdered."
That's happened here before. In April 2014, Jamie May bashed his churchgoing aunt Judy Townsend, 61, to death with a brick outside the Three Sisters as she went for a stroll down the street. The then-39-year-old was arrested naked and covered in blood at a nearby home. He was later found guilty of murder and sentenced to 14 years jail.
During sentencing at the Supreme Court, Justice Helen Wilson said the violent and savage murder was committed during a "drug-induced fog" of ice and cannabis.
She said he had no motive to attack his aunt and may have been hallucinating a grudge against her.
"May is a large man who attacked a much smaller woman who had little chance of defending herself," Judge Wilson said.
Drug and alcohol abuse is an all too common factor in many of the incidents police are called to at the Three Sisters. In the past, police raids have uncovered a meth lab inside one of the apartments. And drug deals are often carried out in the carpark in plain sight, according to several residents who spoke to news.com.au.
A "sharps graph" recently distributed to tenants shows how cleaners are trying to keep the issue of used needles littered on the property under control.
"You see junkies shooting up in the car park and in the hallways," one resident who spoke on the condition of anonymity told news.com.au.
"You try and steer clear of them but it's impossible to avoid them altogether because it's so common."
A new policy was introduced last year to increase safety and manage drug dens by moving known dealers in Sydney social housing towers to the west.
Under the "local allocation strategy", people with drug supply or manufacturing convictions in the past five years are banned from being housed in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills or Glebe.
The decision was met with concern that rather than solving the drug problem, it was merely outsourcing it, and is expected to be reviewed this year.
'JUNKIES SHOOTING UP IN THE CAR PARK'
A NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) spokeswoman told news.com.au there had been "huge changes in the last three years in Redfern to make it a safe place for our tenants to live". She said about 50 tenancies had been ended because of drug dealing in that time.
"Operations are regularly mounted to deter people not living in the area from carrying out illegal behaviour - those visitors are issued with a Banning Notice which is enforceable and is enforced by the Police," she said.
In the past few years, the department has introduced 24/7 building security, front desk services, and fob key building access to make it more difficult for nonresidents to enter social housing buildings in problematic areas.
"There are now security concierges in every block in Redfern," the spokeswoman said.
"All visitors are monitored and only genuine residents and visitors they approve of can get access."
A RedLink Integrated Service Centre, which provides residents with legal and financial assistance, tenant advocacy, social groups and a soup kitchen, is also available on the site.
According to FACS, maintenance contractors are also provided for scheduled cleaning of tower blocks, including daily internal and external cleaning and maintenance of common areas, lawns and grounds areas.
For many of the residents at the Three Sisters, they live there out of necessity, rather than preference.
According to FACS, most public housing tenants are required to pay 25 per cent of their household's income on rent. At last count, there were 48,337 applicants on the NSW housing register and the waiting time for public housing in Sydney was 5-10 years. It's a vicious cycle that leaves those who are offered an apartment at the likes of the Three Sisters unlikely to turn it down.
If you or someone you know needs support, contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14