Young Folks Home

Imagine being surrounded by death, when you are years from your own. Currently, there are 7000 young Australians with disabilities forced to live in aged care facilities because they have no other option. These are people under the age of 65; their lives are characterised by boredom, loneliness, and grief. Can you imagine being 35, wife, and children at home, living with your roommate Bob, who is 89 and eating mushy dinner at 4:30 pm…no thank you!

Young people living in nursing homes are the most marginalized group of people in our society socially, economically, culturally and politically. Statistics show that 53% of young people in aged care living receive a visit from a friend less than once per year. 82% rarely or never leave home to visit their friends. These people are effectively excluded from our society. As a result, young people with disabling conditions do not have the same social and health outcomes as non-disabled young people. These statistics are not only shocking but also heartbreaking. So, what is Australia is doing about this?

The Disability Housing Crisis:

How has this happened? Well with advancing medical technology, survival rates and life expectancies have increased. People are now living longer with degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. As a result, a new population requires 24-hour supervision or very high levels of care. This increased population is putting a severe strain on Australia’s current disability service system.

There is a major shortage of well-located, affordable houses suitable for people with high and complex needs. The design and building of private housing has largely ignored the requirements of people dealing with physical disabilities in Australia. Because people with disabilities are often unable to work in paid employment, or only able to work casually or part-time, thier incomes are often extremely low, or they are dependent on welfare. As a result, households with a disbaled person are often living in poverty.

Therefore, over the past 20 years, aged care or group housing has been the dominant disability housing model. The problem with this is that aged care homes are designed and resourced to focus on end-of-life care for older people, with the average stay fewer than 3.5 years. 3.5 years! Can you even imagine? Nursing homes are not designed to provide rehabilitation, socialisation, and independence. Furthermore, there have been several cases reported where people with disabilities living in group homes have been subjected to violence, abuse, and neglect. Aged care is not the solution to Australia’s disability housing crisis.

Where are we at?

I wanted to know what Australia is doing about this. To my surprise, there has been some important progress in the past few years, with Minister Julia Gillard passing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2013. This scheme aims to provide Australians under the age of 65 with a permanent or significant disability the support to enjoy ordinary life. Support includes providing appropriate housing to those who need it. The NDIS also aims to increase independence and increase social and economic participation. Funding from the NDIS covers a wide range of areas including daily personal activities, transport, workplace help, therapeutic and behavioural support, help with household tasks, home modification and construction, mobility equipment and finally vehicle modification.

Despite the NDIS copping some criticism, Australian Actor, Kiruna Stamell, diagnosed with restricted growth (Dwarfism) is an advocate for the scheme and so am I. “To that, let me quickly short-cut it: how would I make a cup of tea in your standard kitchen in your house? Obviously, I have access needs. The NDIS means I can apply for adaptations to my home so I’m not financially penalised or punished for being disabled. This is a really important thing. It would also mean I could apply for the cost of adaptations to a standard vehicle because I can’t obviously jump behind a wheel and just drive any car.” – Kiruna Stamell

This video really summed it up for me. We need change. Nobody should feel “trapped.”

Specialist Disability Accommodation:

The NDIS is working hard to create a housing market that is user-driven. This means people with disabilities will be empowered to decide where they want to live and who they want to live with. This will be achieved through the Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) payment policy, which has a budget of $700 million. This funding is designed for people who are under the age of 65 and have very high disability support needs, which equates to approximately 28,000 Australians. NDIS participants that meet this criterion will receive annual funding to pay for the cost of their housing. The amount they receive is dependent on the location, size, and level of accessibility. For example the closer the house to shops and transport, the more money you will receive in an attempt to break down current socialisation and independence barriers. Very clever!

The NDIS housing payment scheme will help people with the highest levels of disabilities bridge the gap between what they can afford and the cost of building a highly accessible house. These policies and organizations are working to resolve the issue of young Australians being forced into nursing homes. However, we are a long way from the finish line. The next step is for investors, the housing sector, stakeholders, and the Australian government to team up and continue to improve and build accessible housing for our countries most marginalised group of people.

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