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

After living for over a year in a hospital in the Northern Territory, Doris Jirlu is relieved to have a home.

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

The 56-year-old was then forced to spend 14 months in the rehabilitation ward at Palmerston Regional Hospital, about 13 miles south of Darwin, due to a lack of adequate housing.

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

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

“I sat in the room all day and all night.”

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

Ms. Jirlu’s house has hoists over her bed.(

ABC News: Housnia Shams

)

The Specialized Shelter for People with Disabilities (SDA) includes features such as voice-activated controls, an electronic worktop, hoists, ramps and automatic doors.

Even the width of the doors and hallways in the house has also been adjusted, allowing Ms Jirlu to move freely in her wheelchair.

“It’s like a home for me,” she said.

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

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

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

More housing to overcome the shortage

On Friday, the non-profit Somerville Community Services launched construction of seven new SDA homes in the Northern Territory.

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

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

Three people wearing safety helmets and shiny construction vests rammed shovels into the ground.
Minister Kate Worden and Somerville Community Services CEO Lawson Broad initiate construction of SDA houses.(

ABC News: Housnia Shams

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“Previously, people with disabilities who required supported housing were generally accommodated in social housing.

“These houses were never built to any form of disability standard.”

The new homes will come with features such as 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 could not access proper housing often end up living in hospitals or nursing homes.

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

A woman wearing a red t-shirt looks off camera.  She is in a wheelchair.
NT disability advocate Robyn Burridge says more appropriate housing is needed for people with disabilities. (

ABC News: Peter Garnish

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The largest hospital in the NT, the Royal Darwin Hospital, called two yellow codes this year due to overcrowding of patients and lack of beds.

Young people in care

Richard Dudanga was forced to spend almost two years in an elderly care facility in Palmerston after struggling to find suitable accommodation.

The 56-year-old is non-verbal and needs round-the-clock support.

James McMillan, housing coordinator at Somerville Community Services, said Mr. Dudanga was too young to live in a retirement home and the experience had a negative impact on his well-being.

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

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

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

Two people in wheelchairs are in a room with their caregivers.  The bedroom is newly built.
Richard Dudanga and Doris Jirlu with their assistants.(

ABC News: Peter Garnish

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Disability Minister Kate Worden said the NT government hopes to continue allocating plots of land to housing providers looking to build SDA homes.

“We must have gotten to a point where suppliers like Somerville [Communry Services] can mine and apply for land that they have made through our government to build such purpose built properties, ”Ms. Worden said.

“We have land and we can use it to build more of these houses.”

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John McTaggart

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