NT Specialist Disability Accommodation project helps people with disabilities find accessible homes

After spending more than a year living in a Northern Territory hospital, Doris Jirlu is relieved to have a place to call home.

© Provided by ABC Health

Ms Jirlu had a stroke in August last year, which left her paralysed down one side of her body.

The 56-year-old was then forced to spend 14 months living in the rehabilitation ward at Palmerston Regional hospital, about 21km south of Darwin, due to a lack of suitable housing.

“I didn’t like the hospital,” Ms Jirlu said.

“Just seeing four walls … they never took me out [of the ward].

“I just sat in the ward all day and night.”

Ms Jirlu was able to leave the hospital this month and move into a purpose-built home in the Darwin suburb of Wagaman, which had been designed to accommodate her needs.

The Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) home includes features such as voice-activated controls, electronic bench top, hoists, ramps and automatic doors.

Even the width of the home’s doors and hallways have also been adjusted, allowing Ms Jirlu to move through freely in her wheelchair.

“It feels like a home to me,” she said.

“I don’t have to see four walls all the time, [the support workers] take me out.”

SDA houses are designed for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants with extreme functional impairment or very high support needs.

More than 15,000 people use SDA funding in their NDIS plans.

More homes to address shortage

On Friday, not-for-profit organisation Somerville Community Services launched the construction of seven new SDA homes in the Northern Territory.

The organisation will spend $8 million to fund the project, which will include two homes in Darwin and five in Katherine.

Each house will be able to accommodate up to three people with disabilities, with the project set to house 21 residents in total.

“This is going to be quite revolutionary really, we’ve never seen anything like it before in the Northern Territory,” Somerville Community Services chief executive Lawson Broad.

“Previously, people with disability that required supported accommodation were generally accommodated in public housing.

“Those houses were never constructed to any form of disability standard.”

The new homes will have features including voice-activated technology, automated doors and electronic hoists.

Construction is expected to be completed in about nine months.

Disability services advocate Robyne Burridge said people with disabilities who couldn’t access appropriate accommodation often ended up living in hospital or aged care homes.

“There are people with disabilities in hospital that shouldn’t be there, they should be in places like are being built here,” she said.

The NT’s largest hospital, Royal Darwin Hospital, has called two code yellows this year due to patient overcrowding and bed shortages.

Young people in aged care

Richard Dudanga was forced to spend almost two years living in an aged care facility in Palmerston after struggling to find appropriate housing.

The 56-year-old is non-verbal and requires 24-hour support.

James McMillan, Housing coordinator at Somerville Community Services, says Mr Dudanga was too young to be living in aged care and the experience had a negative impact on his wellbeing.

“[Mr Dudanga] was very detached from his surroundings,” Mr McMillan said.

Six months ago, Mr Dudanga moved into the same SDA home as Ms Jirlu.

“He’s engaging with everyone now and a completely different guy,” Mr McMillan said.

Minister for Disabilities Kate Worden said the NT government hoped to continue awarding parcels of land to housing providers looking to build SDA homes.

“We’ve needed to get to a point that providers like Somerville [Communry Services] can leverage and apply for land which they’ve done through our government to build such purpose-built properties,” Ms Worden said.

“We have land and we’re able to leverage that in order to get more of these homes built.”

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