Mother and disabled daughter homeless for months despite reaching out to Government for help

A disabled New Zealand mother and daughter with cerebral palsy have been homeless for four months since reaching out to the Government for urgent support after arriving in back in the country from Australia.

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An advocate for the pair has called the lack of action unacceptable, discriminatory and deeply concerning. Source: 1 NEWS

Kristina Narsi, 76, is supporting her bedridden daughter Lilian but has chronic medical conditions and limited mobility herself.

“I hope this is not happening to other family members in New Zealand, I keep smiling in front of their face but every morning I give them hope and then Mum (Kristina) counts the days and I cry inside and I can’t take it anymore,” support person Halima Stewart said.

The New Zealand citizens have been living in motels in Wellington, Ms Stewart’s garage and with other people since another family member left them in New Zealand last September after contacting the Ministry of Social Development requesting housing.

The family had been living in Australia for eight years before that.

“Every morning I ring Housing New Zealand and Work and Income to see if they can help in anyway,” Ms Stewart said.

But Ms Stewart said she has only heard of temporary housing options after telling Work and Income she would be telling the media about the situation recently.

After 1 NEWS inquiries, a meeting was arranged for Wednesday morning, where Ms Stewart received an apology, the offer of a second temporary housing option for the family and the offer to reimburse costs Ms Stewart was previously told could not be reimbursed. Kristina was asked about the disability and wider support needs of herself and her 47-year-old daughter for the first time.

“I said to Work and Income, it’s not right, you guys have to come and see them and then make a decision … they haven’t until the media got involved and that when they jumped up and down and said, ‘We have a house available.’”

But Ms Stewart said both temporary housing options are inaccessible, one has a shower that is in a bath and the other is accessed by stairs.

The Ministry of Social Development said the family’s social housing application lapsed last year after not receiving the information it required from the family by deadline to assess whether the family qualified for emergency housing.

“I think MSD’s taken the correct action; there have been some appointments that the clients have missed.” MSD Wellington acting regional commissioner Jamie Robinson said.

Ms Stewart disputes that any phone calls have not been returned or appointments missed since she started supporting the family in December.

After receiving proof of medical conditions, the family were put on the housing register on December 30 last year. Grants for food for $200 and nearly $2000 in superannuation payments were provided, according to MSD.

Ms Stewart said she was also unaware of an offer for rest home/respite care for Lilian, which MSD says the family declined.

CCS Disability Action central region general manager Janine Hoete-Thornton said she wasn’t surprised by the situation given the time of year, but she said it was unacceptable.

“It can be an added challenge mainly around access so when people ask for accessible housing other people regard that as one level access and wider doorways however, we’re looking at it as bathrooms as well,” she said.

Ms Hoete-Thornton advised disabled people to have Government-provided support in place before moving countries and support from family or a community-based agency to help during the process.

Ms Stewart said she is deeply concerned by the time it has taken to get support in place for the high-needs family from Government agencies, and the lack of support being offered, calling it discriminatory and unacceptable.

“I provided the doctor certificate, I took some photos of Lilian and I told them these girls need support and they can’t be transported from one place to another. They said that the only options they got, the emergency (funding) - ‘You look for it, we pay for it.”

The family received an emergency housing grant for $750 for five nights’ accommodation at a motel but Ms Stewart has paid for other motel accommodation herself.

This week five motels declined Ms Stewart’s request for emergency housing for the family, and with no spaces available at community services, she found temporary accommodation for the family.

MSD said they helped pay for this accommodation.

Ms Stewart said she could not afford another ambulance to transport Lilian to the latest accommodation after a previous trip so helpers lifted Lilian to the room in a blanket.

When 1 NEWS visited, Lilian was distressed and broke down multiple times.

“I think you can see it on her face, she understands everything, and she knows what’s going on and she’s seeing her mother cry a lot and every day, I see her cry,” Ms Stewart said.

Today the family need to leave the accommodation and it’s not known where they will live next.

“Mum (Kristina) doesn’t want to leave Wellington as she has no other support and I will love to see them on a regular basis,” Ms Stewart said.

MSD’s Jamie Robinson said the complex needs of the family and their recent return to New Zealand are added factors in the challenge to set up appropriate support and accommodation for the family.

He said with the requested information provided, the agency is now working closely with the family to find temporary and longer-term accommodation.

Ms Stewart is advising other families to speak out if they feel they aren’t being treated appropriately and said she hopes this situation will be “a lesson” for MSD.

In a statement, Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said housing is a critical issue for disabled people with only up to five per cent of the country’s housing stock considered accessible.

"Government departments and social services should act quickly to ensure disabled people at risk of homelessness get the support they need," she said.