Housing crisis: Young children are being 'eaten alive'
COVERED in inflamed, red parasitic bites, Heath Ewart's young family is living a nightmare.
The family, who moved to Coffs Harbour three months ago, is facing the harsh reality of living on the poverty line where rental stress is high and the market is tight.
Sarah, a 22-year-old breastfeeding mum of three, has been diagnosed with postnatal depression and has been working as a housekeeper at a motel.
Heath was a professional fighter but after suffering serious injuries he's been living on a disability pension.
They have three girls aged one, three and five.
After losing their savings in a Gumtree scam while living in Queensland, Heath and Sarah were homeless. When Sarah gave birth to their third daughter, they were living in a tent.
In a bid to find a good place to raise their girls, they looked to Coffs Harbour.
The choices were slim, but the family secured a unit on Colombus Circuit for about $360 a week with the help of a local not-for-profit service.
But instead of that fresh start they were hoping for, they copped an infestation of bed bugs and cockroaches.
"We came to Coffs because we saw it was just such a beautiful place to raise beautiful girls. We'd been everywhere trying to find a stable roof over our heads," Heath said.
Since moving into the unit, and having purchased brand new mattresses, the family has been attacked by bed bugs.
Sarah just days ago lost her job due to the "despicable housing arrangement".
"At the current time ... we cannot employ her for obvious reasons due to our duty of care," Sarah's reference letter from her former employer reads.
Other tenants in the complex have complained about the issue, with couches and mattresses left abandoned outside.
Carrying specimens of the bugs he'd recently caught, Heath said his family were suffering multiple bites every night. On the window sill sits cans of Mortein which Heath has been using in a vain attempt to rid the unit of the parasites.
"I'm not sleeping anymore, I'm up all night trying to protect the children from the bugs. It's a nightmare.
"Sarah's a marvellous mum but I can see she's crumbling. I sit up all night crying because I feel like I'm failing my family, I owe everything to them."
They have informed the landlord of the infestation several times, but when it comes to bed bugs the issue is not so simple. Not only are they hard to get rid of, but it can't be proved whether the infestation was there to begin with or if the bugs came with the tenants.
One of the family's neighbours, Dave, is convinced the infestation has been affecting the units for at least three years.
But Dave said bed bugs weren't the only problem, saying he was the victim of a stabbing at his unit which prompted the installation of security cameras.
"There's a prostitute working out of one of the units downstairs, at least nine people have died from overdoses here, including in the spa, the damaged ceiling in the corridor is full of asbestos," he claimed.
Unfortunately, Heath's family is potentially facing homelessness again.
The family has been evicted and must vacate the unit by March. Their termination notice states they had been in arrears for two days.
"We've been driving around trying to find the right environment for a long time so this cycle of homelessness doesn't continue," he said.
"We have never been blacklisted, we've got a good record, but it's getting harder and harder to find a secure housing environment.
"I just want to give my girls the best start in life."