Mum's hell living with junkies, hookers and crims

Hollie Rizzotto and her young child in the unsafe complex where Hollie feels trapped. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR

Hollie Rizzotto and her young child in the unsafe complex where Hollie feels trapped. Pictures: KIRK GILMOUR

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The Department of Housing has repeatedly knocked back a Warrawong mum’s desperate pleas to be moved out of a dangerous unit complex littered with junkies, prostitutes and violent criminals. Despite the Housing Appeals Committee ruling that the mother and child should be moved out of the Warrawong complex, the department has once again rejected her application. 

It has been a hellish two years for single mother Hollie Rizzotto.

After the Housing Appeals Committee recommended her transfer out of her Todd Street, Warrawong unit in February, Housing NSW has for the third time refused the move.

For the 23-year-old, it was a crushing blow.

"I just feel like no-one is listening," she said. "That no-one cares about me and my daughter. I cry myself to sleep at night. How bad does it have to get here? Why can't they see this is no place for children to live?"

Ms Rizzotto was first declined a transfer in February 2013 - a year on, she's still trapped in hell.

'Why can’t they see this is no place for children to live?'

When she signed the lease in 2012, she had no idea she was walking into a drug haven. Housing NSW pointed out the freshly painted walls, new kitchen and carpet but was silent about the drug dens, the prostitutes, the domestic violence.

With a baby to take care of, the then 21-year-old was desperate for a place to live and so with rose-coloured glasses, she immediately accepted the unit - the first property she had been shown by Housing NSW.

It was her biggest mistake.

Used syringes under a window near Hollie Rizzotto's front door pictured in December.

Used syringes under a window near Hollie Rizzotto's front door pictured in December.

In the hallway, outside her front door, is a steady stream of seedy characters, many of them high on drugs and out of control. In the beginning, Ms Rizzotto was constantly offered free drugs from her neighbours. But after three months of trying to push drugs on her, they finally got the message to leave her alone.

"I'm lucky I was so strong back then," Ms Rizzotto said. "I can understand how people can get sucked into it, particularly if they have problems."

There are rises and troughs in crime - depending on who lives there and who gets out of jail. Sometimes it's quiet in the ghetto and sometimes it's so bad, it's like living in the middle of a violent television drama.

Police with batons and dogs break down doors, sheriffs evict residents for not paying their rent, junkies bang on doors and scream abuse and death threats.

Regardless of how hot it is, the young mum will not open her windows after sunset.

Regardless of how hot it is, the young mum will not open her windows after sunset.

In December, the hallway was so putrid, the railing had blood smears and the stairs were caked with cockroach faeces and also what appeared to be dog faeces.

On a landing outside a window were discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia.

After a Mercury story exposing the filth, it took Housing NSW four weeks to clean it up and then cleaners three days to clear away the grime.

In January, the Mercury recorded a handful of brawls, in February, witnessed a drug deal taking place in broad daylight and earlier this week, filmed two men shooting up in the front seat of a car, in clear view of units where children are living.

Ms Rizzotto has witnessed scantily dressed prostitutes urinate in the hallway, a man shoot up drugs into his neck and countless used syringes. She has to carry her daughter in and out of the complex because of the filth on the stairwell and fears she will one day step on a needle.

Family Services Illawarra strongly recommends Ms Rizzotto be moved as a matter of priority.

Family Services Illawarra strongly recommends Ms Rizzotto be moved as a matter of priority.

She is also too scared to venture outside at night and regardless of how hot it is, she will not open her windows after sunset.

Over time, Ms Rizzotto's mental health has deteriorated and she now spends much of the week, with her daughter, inside the tiny unit.

The Housing Appeals Committee accepted a counsellor's report that Ms Rizzotto is suffering from anxiety and stress, but Housing NSW said it needed a report from a medical practitioner.

A letter to Ms Rizzotto stated that during a scheduled client service visit to her unit on February 28, she was asked to provide the document.

But Ms Rizzotto said there was no scheduled visit. She claimed that her caseworker knocked on her door unannounced and asked if she had a medical report.

She replied she had already handed in a report by her counsellor and she had another appointment booked for April. There was no advice on that day, she said, about gaining any document from her doctor.

Housing NSW has said that Ms Rizzotto's application also lacked supporting documentation in relation to her harassment claims. But Ms Rizzotto has continually stated that she will not provide the names of any drug dealers or addicts.

The Housing Appeals Committee found last month that Ms Rizzotto was eligible for a transfer concluding that the ... "nuisance and harassment being experienced by Ms Rizzotto is a serious and ongoing threat to her mental health".

Family Services Illawarra, which has provided support to Ms Rizzotto for the past seven weeks, also strongly recommends she be moved, declaring it a matter of priority.

A letter dated March 7 to Housing NSW stated Ms Rizzotto would become "tearful or anxious" when discussing the safety issues with her neighbours and that she and her daughter had experienced social isolation and stress due to their current living situation.

It also said Ms Rizzotto was unwilling to identify individuals who had contributed to her sense of vulnerability due to fear of retribution.

Ms Rizzotto said the application for transfer had taken so long and the bureaucratic process was so arduous that she felt she had no choice but to contact the Mercury.

A spokesperson for the department said Ms Rizzotto had been sent a number of requests in writing to provide medical evidence as to her mental state and documentation of the ongoing harassment.

"Ms Rizzotto may reapply for a transfer should she decide to provide supporting documentation. If she does, her request will be reassessed in accordance with the eligibility criteria," the spokesperson said.

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