Public housing residents on Cliff Road in Wollongong have called on urgent action after being left without hot water for more than a week.
From her lounge room window Billie Olsen has a million dollar view over Belmore Basin, but the 64-year-old housebound pensioner spends her days sitting in an oversized chair in her tiny public housing flat surrounded by romance novels, her journal and a raft of medications.
Life is difficult for Ms Olsen who suffers from emphysema, diabetes and hepatitis C. For the past week she has not been able to shower further adding to her distress and intense discomfort.
‘‘I’m sitting in a dirty nightgown, my hair is dirty, I feel dirty,’’ Ms Olsen said. ‘‘It’s a matter of personal hygiene and feeling good about yourself. The weather has been too cold even to have a wash with cold water. It’s going to get worse with these gale force winds coming.’’
The hot water system services six homes in the public housing complex - all of them have been without hot water since June 8.
Neighbour Bill Cooley, 51, said he spent 40 minutes on hold on his mobile telephone on the evening of June 7 to make a complaint to Housing maintenance when it first became evident that the ageing hot water system was faulting. That call cost him $47.
‘‘They told me that someone would be out here within four hours,’’ Mr Cooley said. ‘‘A plumber didn’t come for three days and then he said it couldn’t be fixed. The hot water system is irreparable and needs replacing. When that will be, we don’t know. It’s so frustrating.’’
Mr Cooley said for three days black smoke and toxic fumes were emitted from the vents of the brick shed housing the hot water system as electric wiring and plastic began to smoulder. On Sunday June 15 gas fumes were still evident at the site.
‘‘The electrical wiring is burnt out. We’ve had no correspondence from Housing NSW at all,’’ Mr Cooley said.
‘‘Not even a letter to tell us we need to make other arrangements to shower and clean our clothes. There’s been nothing.’’
Ms Olsen said that a kind neighbour in an adjoining block of flats had offered for her to shower at his home, but said she could not walk the distance.
‘‘I can’t walk very far in my condition,’’ she said. ‘‘Look at the state I’m in. I need to be clean. I pay my rent, gas and electricity bill. I expect to have hot water.’’
Mr Cooley said he too suffered from a medical condition which made it impossible for him to bathe in cold water.
‘‘I have chronic lung disease,’’ he said. ‘‘I already have aches and pains everywhere because of the cold weather. I can’t have a cold shower because my body could cramp up and have a heart attack. It’s inhumane not being able to shower.’’
A spokesperson for Housing NSW said due to the complexity of the hot water system works could not be completed under the existing maintenance contract.
The work was referred to a specialist contractor who has assessed the issue and hot water should be restored at the complex within three working days.