Trigger Warning: This article contains references to suicide and deaths

Public housing evictions in a Sydney suburb are ‘killing’ tenants and driving up stress and mental health problems, a housing advocate has warned.

Carolyn Ienna, who was evicted from their home in the inner-west suburb of Glebe, claims three people died within a few months of the state government announcing the demolition of public housing last year, including a resident who committed suicide and two who died prematurely of health conditions exacerbated by stress.

Ienna, a First Nations person and activist for Hands Off Glebe and Action For Public Housing, blamed a lack of government support that had meant some residents had not survived the relocation process from 82 Wentworth Park Road, which had tipped their underlying health problems over the edge. 

“I was the first person in all these deaths to know, then having to relay it to other people, even their families,” they said.

“In all cases, I was the first one to know. And it doesn’t matter how strong you are, it weighs you down.”

Ienna claimed one tenant took his own life a short time before the first scheduled visit from NSW Land and Housing Corporation.  

“He was a very well-educated person. So, if you wanted advice about something, you’d ask [him] before anybody else,”  they said.

“I suspect because of the type of person he was, very educated, recently retired, looking forward to numerous holidays, that he knew something was about to happen.

“But yeah, I didn’t expect it at that time, I just didn’t.” 

It’s worse than putting salt in the wound of a traumatised person. I’m traumatised by all these deaths.

The development application submitted by Land and Housing Corporation was approved by the City of Sydney Local Planning Panel in December. According to the application, the redevelopment will comprise 43 affordable housing dwellings, an increase of 26 homes on the current site. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1,431 people in Glebe have a mental health condition, including depression or anxiety. 

Ienna said they are fighting to stop the demolition of public housing and educate the public. 

“They’ve got to understand that the way public housing is right now, a majority of people are marginalised in some way, shape or form,” they said.

“It’s worse than putting salt in the wound of a traumatised person. I’m traumatised by all these deaths.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), which manages the relocations in social housing, denied there had been a lack of care in the relocation process, and that the department was committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of all social housing residents.

“When relocations are required, DCJ works closely with each resident and their support network,” they said.

“The team includes a senior client service officer specialist with a social work background who links residents with local supports and other services as needed.

 “All residents from 82 Wentworth Park Road Glebe were successfully relocated and provided the appropriate assistance.” 

Social and emotional wellbeing and mental health is linked to place.

An ABS National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, reported mental health is affected by multiple socioeconomic factors including ‘living conditions’.

Associate Professor Jo River, an expert in social science and participatory research in mental health, said the public housing demolitions have huge implications for residents’ wellbeing. 

“I recommend that they don’t evict them,” River said.

“Social and emotional wellbeing and mental health is linked to place, and sense of belonging to place and connection to people around the place.

“It would be really hard because you would have to relearn a whole community.

“I think what would help people’s mental health would be to work with those people, to design solutions to the actual problem of them moving and actually determining whether it’s even necessary for them to move.” 


The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported in 2016-17, that out of the 66,700 Indigenous households in social housing, 50 per cent were in public housing.

However, Jeffrey Morgan, a First Nations person and former resident of ‘The Block’ in Redfern Aboriginal housing, who was relocated around 31 years ago, said whether relocation was beneficial depended on how it was handled.

“At the time, you do think it’s a bad thing and the government’s against us or the police are against us or whatever it might be,” the mindset, wellbeing and leadership coach said.

“But looking back on it now, I have the beauty of hindsight and it was one of the greatest things that could happen for our community. 

“It allowed us to live a different way of life and build it up again. People move back in and everyone’s got a job, or something of that nature, now.

“I totally understand where they’re coming from though, the people who are going through it, because they’ve been there for so long.

“Your perception is through the lens of where you’re living.”

We get demonised. We get told it’s our fault.

Land and Housing Corporation, a self-funded Public Trading Enterprise and part of the NSW Government’s Department of Planning and Environment, is responsible for the demolition schedule, but Ienna said it should also be funded by the government.

“Technically, they’re selling off properties to apparently maintain other properties,” they said. 

“But since they’ve been doing this sell-off, I’m not seeing a lot of properties well maintained.

“You’re trying to settle into your new place, you’re trying to fix it up because they never have your place ready for you.

“Gutters are full all the time. People have got mould in their places. 

“We get demonised. We get told it’s our fault.” 

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. 

Main image of Carolyn Ienna by Acacia Soares.