When Makereta and her son Caleb got the keys and opened the door to their new Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) home in Mambourin in Victoria, she cried. Tears of joy, exhaustion and relief.
After two years of fighting to be able to live with Caleb in a purpose-built home that met his needs, she says it was difficult to find words to describe her elation.
“The home is what I had dreamed of. It gives Caleb the quality of life I wanted him to have – for him to be comfortable and have some freedom in his life,” Makereta says.
“People kept telling me it was impossible for Caleb to live in a SDA home with me and his brother Saula but with the support of our advocacy service, support co-ordinator, support workers and Home in Place, we did it,” she says.
The need to live as a family with existing supports
Originally from Fiji, when Makereta and her family migrated to Australia in 2010, Caleb was able to walk. His muscular dystrophy means he is now in a wheelchair. Caleb, 21, is Makereta’s miracle. Having been told it was likely Caleb would not live past 16 she is grateful for every day they spend together. She has already lost Caleb’s older brother Aminiasi, who also had muscular dystrophy, when he was 18.
The family has been living in their new home since November 2022. Makereta says Caleb has access to a day service about 10 minutes away and his “amazing” support workers are always happy to make the 45-minute trip to see him.
“Our home is new and is totally wheelchair accessible with a huge bathroom and accessible deck and outside area for Caleb to enjoy.”
Part of the issue for Makereta, Caleb and Saula was they wanted to live together and keep the supported independent living provider and other supports Caleb had grown to trust. Makereta doesn’t know how much longer Caleb will be with them and because of their cultural background, living together is important. Saula has been Makereta’s rock and a great brother and support to Caleb. Caleb doesn’t speak outside the home and doesn’t like to bother people if he is suffering or in need. He had opened up to his supports and they were also able to anticipate his needs.
“The NDIS is supposed to be about choice and control and we were always respectfully clear about our not unreasonable needs.”
Makereta’s tip for other families seeking SDA housing
Makereta’s tip for other families seeking appropriate specialist disability housing is to never lose hope.
She says having an excellent occupational therapist (OT) and using an advocacy service was key to her finally being successful.
“The OT report was extensive and carries a lot of weight in the NDIS process to get SDA into your plan. Our support co-ordinator was excellent but having an advocacy service, who went above and beyond, made all the difference in opening doors, being heard and making our case.”
So many housing providers said it was impossible
Makereta estimates she had contacted as many as 30 housing providers before finding Home in Place. She had contacted investors and developers, even looking into building her own home. With insufficient personal funds and private rentals not suitable for wheelchairs she had no choice but SDA accommodation.
“So many people pushed us aside or didn’t even call back. We were set to move into a nearby property but then the provider said we couldn’t live with Caleb. Desperate, I asked our support people if there was any other provider and they mentioned Home in Place who is new to Victoria.”
“So many people pushed us aside or didn’t even call back. We were set to move into a nearby property but then the provider said we couldn’t live with Caleb. Desperate, I asked our support people at Access Living Group if there was any other provider and they mentioned Home in Place who is new to Victoria.”
“I wasn’t hopeful but from the first conversation I felt like I had known them for years. They were so friendly and understood where I was coming from. Supporting a child with a disability and navigating the NDIS and SDA process takes its toll mentally and physically – they appreciated that. They listened to me. I didn’t get that from anyone else.
Partnerships key to SDA housing success
It was Home in Place’s Acquisitions Coordinator Dinah Profili that Makereta spoke with. Dinah says being connected to support providers, property investors and developers is key to it achieving successful outcomes for people needing Specialist Disability Accommodation.
“Access Living Group introduced us to Makereta and we were able to match her needs to a private investor who we knew had a social impact view of investing with purpose. The property owner agreed to help keep the family together,” Dinah says.
Makereta’s focus is always Caleb but admits that life in the new home is finally much easier for her.
“Caleb would constantly say to me ‘Mum its ok. Everything will be alright. Someone will listen’. He was right!”
“I am so thankful, relieved and so happy.”