“Life is a drag. It’s this constant depression, like it’s never gonna end. We’re right next to the train station, sometimes you think, should I just jump under the train?”
Sarah* is a single mother with young boys. They live in a ‘‘family room’’ at the Piccadilly Motor Inn. The room has a double bed, a bunk bed, a shower, toilet and mini fridge. It is no bigger than a standard single bedroom.
“Prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics. It’s not a place you want to be with young kids, God no.”
Sarah has lived at Piccadilly for several months. After being forced out of a rental property due to a dispute with landlords over property maintenance, an application for temporary emergency housing through Housing NSW resulted in an offer of a week’s accommodation at Piccadilly.
“They said they could give me a week there, but they couldn’t help more than that, and said I would have to help myself after that,” she said.
Applications for assistance through the Illawarra Housing Trust also amounted to nil. After initial optimism as she was boosted to the top of the IHT’s housing list, her hopes were soon dashed.
“They reneged on that a few months later. They said I wasn’t ‘priority housing’ and they couldn’t help me any more.”
With few options, and no luck in securing private rental accommodation, Sarah joined many others as she turned to the Piccadilly Motor Inn for what she thought – what she hoped – would only be a short stay, until better lodgings could be found.
That was more than five months ago.
“It’s a lack of private rentals. Every time I apply for a house, I get knocked back, so this was my only choice. It was Piccadilly or nowhere, and I didn’t want my kids taken off me,” Sarah said.
Sarah said Piccadilly took in those people other lodgings would not touch. The influx of those who had no other options meant a steady income stream for the motel, Sarah saying the complex was full “about 90per cent of the time”.
She pays $350 a week for her shoebox room.
The September Housing NSW Rent and Sales Report said two-bedroom units in Wollongong averaged $310 per week.
The figures highlight that people do not stay at Piccadilly because they want to.
“It’s because we have nowhere else to go, we can’t get a private rental. Other places won’t take us, but Piccadilly will,” Sarah said.
“It’s better than having nowhere to stay. It’s a roof over your head.”
Because she is a long-term resident – her room is one of 12 rented on a long-term basis, by people who have lived at the Piccadilly for up to three years – she gets a slight discount from the regular rate of $375. That is one of few positive points of her Piccadilly experience, with violence, fighting and drugs simply an ever-present backdrop to the lives of her family.
“The boys have to stay in the room, they’re not allowed out unless they’re with me because I’m too scared to let them go out,” Sarah said.
“It’s horrible. We’re confined, it’s like we’re alienated and shut out from the outside world. I don’t feel safe leaving the boys by themselves. They’re not allowed to open the door to anyone, or to speak to anyone.”
While life at the Piccadilly is far from ideal, Sarah is quick to point out the efforts of the motel managers to support families. She said the managers, Bob and Billy, worked to make life a little easier for those guests who needed a bit of extra help.
“They’re pretty good. They know what’s going on, and if anything goes too far they will be the first to call the police and tell us to stay in the room,” she said.
“They look out for people with families, they are pretty good with us. But I can’t wait to get out.”
*Name changed to preserve anonymity.