Todd Street residents focus on positives

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A community garden on the grounds of the Illawarra's most disadvantaged housing estate is providing fresh hope and regeneration for the people who live there.

Todd Street, Warrawong has a reputation for being riddled with drug addicts and sex workers, and some buildings attract unsavoury characters.

On Tuesday 30 used syringes were found under bushes and in long grass near what many say is the worst block on the estate to live in.

But the law-abiding tenants in the complex are fed up with being stigmatised by the actions of drug dealers and addicts.

Daren Peers, 45, moved into one of the best blocks in the complex three years ago. At the time he wasn't happy with the move because of Todd Street's bad reputation. But his immediate neighbours are elderly and quiet.

'Most of the people who live here are ordinary people who get on with their lives and don't cause any trouble.'

Though he is sometimes kept awake at night by drug addicts brawling outside his unit, with the establishment of the community garden five months ago his views about living in Todd Street have changed dramatically.

He now feels part of a positive and friendly community, and the garden gives him an opportunity to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.

"I've suffered from depression and I find digging in the garden helps balance my mood," Mr Peers said.

"I get a lot of inspiration from it. It's really helped my life and takes my mind away from my problems. It would be nice if more people came down here to volunteer."

So far eight people have requested their own garden beds, including a four-year-old boy who tends a plot of strawberries.

Todd Street has 100 households living in a small area, and children live in 10 of the units. In the past five months the Mercury has reported on the plight of single mother of one Hollie Rizzotto, who for the past year has been unsuccessful in her efforts to be transferred out of the estate.

Until recently there were four drug dens in her building; now there are two. A psychologist has agreed her block is an unsafe and unstable place to raise a child.

Sharyn Lacey, 52, who lives in the nearby Bent Street complex, also believes Ms Rizzotto's building is no place for children. However, she denied the precinct was a dangerous place to live.

"I walk around here at night to visit friends and check on the garden," Ms Lacey said. "I'm a slight woman and I have never felt unsafe."

Most of the anti-social behaviour was from visitors to the estate, not tenants, she said.

"Most of the people who live here are ordinary people who get on with their lives and don't cause any trouble," she said.

Warrawong Housing program co-ordinator Phoenix Van Dyke also said Ms Rizzotto should be moved out of her current living arrangement.

She also believed Housing NSW should provide needle bins for residents, but the department had refused.

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