29 August 2022

Mum of six just wants a safe home for her kids

| Zoe Cartwright
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Jacinta French

Jacinta French is battling to find a safe home for her children. Photo: Facebook.

Eurobodalla woman Jacinta French just wants a safe home for her kids.

Instead, one of her daughters has been in Canberra Hospital due to the effects of mould, another is suffering anxiety, and her son has begun to literally pull his own hair out.

Ms French and her six children live in an Aboriginal Housing Office home, due in part to the difficulty of finding an affordable five-bedroom property in the area.

“Since I moved in there have been problems with mould, roof leaks and cockroaches,” Ms French said.

“AHO refused to do any work, so I got an independent building inspector to identify what needed to be done to prevent damp and mould.

“They basically just dismissed his report.”

In January her worst fears were realized when her seven-year-old daughter had to be taken to Canberra Hospital.

The girl was born with asthma and a condition called gastroschisis. As a result, her internal organs have intensive scarring. She was coughing so badly and so often it was pulling at the scar tissue.

Then, after the summer’s heavy rains, the property became so filled with damp and mould it was declared uninhabitable.

The children’s beds, clothes and toys were destroyed; the walls were filled with mould and, when she pulled up a corner of carpet, the floorboards underneath were black with fungus.

Mouldy floorboards

Mould appeared in the floorboards. Photo: Supplied.

She had to take her case to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) before the Department of Communities and Justice, which is responsible for housing, would act.

Ms French and her children were placed into temporary accommodation while the property was repaired.

She has since been advised the home is safe to return to, and that temporary accommodation will no longer be made available to her.

Despite this advice, and despite the NCAT order, she said work on the property had not been completed. Old flooring remains in place, and mouldy walls have been simply plastered and repainted.

Ms French fears the impact on her kids’ health if they return. But being without a safe and stable home is also hurting her children.

One of her daughters, who has autism, has struggled badly with her mental health since the bushfires.

Ms French said the family had worked hard to build her back up, but since the housing problems she had begun to struggle with depression and anxiety again.

Her son is so stressed he has begun to pull at his hair; her seven-year-old daughter doesn’t sleep at night.

Ms French said she felt frustrated and betrayed.

“I thought Aboriginal Housing was about making generational changes,” Ms French said.

“My upbringing wasn’t the greatest, but each generation is meant to improve a little and I’m trying to do that for my family.

“I’m working full-time, I’m studying, so my kids have better opportunities.

“My 15-year-old is in school, has a job and referees on weekends – I wasn’t doing that at her age. But not having safe housing has changed her.”

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The Department of Communities and Justice says the NSW Land and Housing Corporation has conducted extensive work, and the property is safe to live in.

“[This includes] repairs and new installations in the kitchen, removal of asbestos and mould, and other general repairs and cleaning,” a department spokesperson said.

“We take tenant concerns about properties very seriously, which is why we have a 24/7 maintenance hotline where we respond to around 640,000 maintenance requests annually.”

The spokesperson acknowledged that not all NCAT-ordered and recommended works had taken place yet.

With milestone birthdays coming up for two of her children, Ms French just wants them to know where they’re going to sleep each night.

“They don’t have any trust in people at the moment,” she said. “I keep relaying to them what I’m being told about when we’ll be going home, but it’s never true.”

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