Single mum has no escape from Christmas hell

Single mum Hollie Rizzotto is facing a Christmas from hell locked away in her Todd Street unit after her second appeal to be transferred was refused by Housing NSW.

On a filthy landing just metres from her front door yesterday were three used syringes and other drug paraphernalia. A discarded, grimy mattress has been left in the hall. 

There are dried blood stains on the railing, remnants of what looked like dog faeces and steps so caked in dirt that Hollie has to carry her 18-month-old daughter in and out of her unit.

Her friends stopped visiting months ago - too afraid to bring their children into an environment where from the kitchen window Hollie has seen prostitutes urinating in public and drug addicts shooting heroin into their necks.

At night Hollie cries herself to sleep as she tries to block out the screams and fighting. Her only saving grace is that her daughter is yet too young to understand.

Hollie's biggest fear is that one day someone will kick down her front door mistaking it for one of her drug-addicted neighbours.

"There are constant fights here," Hollie said.

"When it gets bad they don't just yell they're going to bash or stab someone. It's always 'I'm going to shoot you in the face. I'm going to shoot your head off. I'm going to shoot you dead.' The threats of guns and shootings are normal here."

While she has never seen a gun or heard any shots fired, Hollie said she lived in fear that a bullet would one day come through her front door or window.

"I can't believe that they [Housing NSW] think this is a safe place for a child to grow up," said Hollie, almost in tears. "I can't believe they have refused my appeal for a second time. Not only are they not moving me, but I'm not even on the waiting list for a transfer."

On December 13, the drug addict who lives above Hollie screamed and moaned in a combination of ecstasy and pain for 20 hours straight, stopping only when the police arrived.

"He started at 4am and didn't finish till midnight," she said.

"He is a polite man but when he is on drugs he doesn't stop screaming. It's like nothing you have ever heard before. It's like a very, very bad movie. Not even shutting all of the windows can block out the noise."

Hollie said she has had her shopping stolen three times after leaving it at the bottom of the steps so she could carry her daughter up the flight of stairs to her unit. On two occasions the thief stole her baby formula.

A few months ago police kicked down the front door of the now empty block of units next door to Hollie to arrest squatters living inside.

"There is always something going on here," she said. "Yesterday the downstairs unit was broken into and robbed. We are also infested with cockroaches, yet they won't do anything about it, even after we all signed a petition. When I complain about the state of the stairs they say they are cleaned every two weeks. But there's no way that happens. I've had to ring them to come and clean vomit from outside my door before. It's disgusting."

Hollie has received counselling for depression and anxiety which gets worse at night as she feels compelled to continuously check her doors and windows are secure.

In declining a transfer, the department said that Hollie had attended only three counselling sessions, the last one being in July.

"Although Ms Rizzotto's counsellor suggests that she would benefit from further counselling, he could not confirm relocating her would completely resolve her medical condition," the department said in its decision.

Further, in a statement to the Mercury, the department claimed that Hollie's medical condition could not be substantiated.

But Hollie said talking about the situation with a counsellor wasn't helping her mental health as she had to return to her unit to live through the nightmare all over again.

"If I keep talking about it I know I'll get worse. I know it will get really bad for me," she said. "Because there's no escape from it here. It's constant. If I had any other option I wouldn't be living here. The only quiet day is Sunday. That's the only day I feel safe walking around here and that's because everyone is inside their units sleeping because they've been up partying night after night since the Thursday."

Hollie's daughter is the only child living in the block of units and although the block is notorious within the complex for attracting drug addicts and other anti-social behaviour, Hollie - who lived outside of the Warrawong area - had no idea what she was signing herself and her daughter up for when she agreed to move in.

"No-one told me when I moved in 12 months ago what this place was like," she said. "I think they should have warned me so that I would have at least had a choice."

Following the appeal process Hollie claimed that she had felt uncomfortable and intimidated by two workers from the department who had interviewed her in her home and that she had struggled to answer some of their questions.

However, a spokesperson for the department said that Ms Rizzotto had shown no sign of feeling intimidated during the interview and that staff had listened to her concerns and discussed a range of options that could assist her and her daughter.

Further, the department claimed Hollie had failed to provide evidence to support her requests for transfer and that she would not co-operate with an investigation.

Hollie told the Mercury that she would not sign any police statements or be a witness in court because she feared retribution.

The spokesperson said: "The vast majority of tenants in public housing do the right thing. When the minority engage in antisocial behaviour occurring on public housing properties, the department can take action against them. This action can include eviction, as was recently the case with one tenant in Ms Rizzotto's building. Before we can take such action, however, we need - and expect - the assistance of other residents to help us build our case before the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal."

The spokesperson also said the department had undertaken a great deal of work in recent years to improve the property, including the closure of laneways to discourage unauthorised access.

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