When Peter moved into the Housing Commission flat in Werrington, he was looking to make a new start. He’d been living in public housing or five years, but wanted to move up to Sydney and look for a job.
One day he found an online swap site for public housing tenants. The low-rise, red-brick block, a few kilometres from Penrith in Western Sydney, seemed like a good place to begin his new life.
"My first impression was that it’s a bit of a rough area, but I thought, give it a fresh start and see what I can make of it," says Peter.
But within weeks of moving in, Peter was caught in a vicious campaign of threats, harassment and victimisation from his neighbours.
Peter’s case manager at Housing NSW would later tell him that Housing had hoped he’d be a "peaceful influence" in the block of flats. What he did not tell Peter when he moved in was that one of his new neighbours had served time in prison for a double murder.
Peter himself had had a history of depression and heavy drinking. Two of the other tenants in the block were drinkers. In his first weeks at the new flat, Peter would sometimes join them when they got on the grog.
But then Peter decided he wanted to dry out. He started seeing a counsellor at the Drug and Alcohol Centre at Nepean Hospital and stopped drinking. He was determined to get well.
But his former drinking mates didn’t like the fact that he’d quit. He was no longer one of them. They’d start drinking early in the day -- the local bottle shop opens at 6am -- and yell abuse at Peter from outside his front door.
In November 2009, the death threats began. One of the neighbours confronted Peter one day outside the flat .
"I’m gonna burn your unit down," he screamed at him, "I’m gonna throw a fragmentation grenade in there and then I’m gonna burn your car." He then menaced Peter with a chunk of concrete.
Peter went to the police -- but initially they just told him to ignore the abuse and threats. Other neighbours who’d witnessed the threats and abuse were too frightened to give evidence.
Peter filed complaints with the Housing office in Penrith. He asked his case manager at Housing NSW if he could get him a transfer out of Werrington. Nothing happened.
"People are allowed to run amok," says Peter, "Housing NSW gives no consideration to the safety of tenants."
After repeated complaints to the police, Peter eventually succeeded in obtaining an AVO against one of the neighbours who was threatening him.
Despite this, Housing NSW refused to move him. Peter told the ACIJ that Housing NSW "made me feel like I was the bad guy".
His case worker from Nepean Hospital wrote to Housing NSW on several occasions imploring them to move his client, but again they refused.
A spokesperson from Housing NSW told the ACIJ that the local Housing office had "worked with Peter concerning his support needs", and that Peter’s perception of the issues he faced was "not in common with his neighbours".
Peter says that as the threats escalated, he felt isolated and downtrodden and feared for his life.
Watch Peter's video on his experiences with mental health and housing.