Trapped in their own houses, suffering through extreme heat

Posted 2 months ago by David McManus
Matilda, a former National Secretary of Whistleblowers Australia, is dedicated to ensuring integrity and transparency in public office as a champion of social justice causes. [Source: Shutterstock]
Matilda, a former National Secretary of Whistleblowers Australia, is dedicated to ensuring integrity and transparency in public office as a champion of social justice causes. [Source: Shutterstock]

Content warning: reader discretion is advised

Matilda had threatened to speak with the media several times — eventually, she did.

Forensic Social Worker Matilda Bawden told Talking Disability journalist David McManus about the systemic problems faced by her vulnerable clients, including people trapped inside their own homes.

Matilda shared the story of one client who, after two years of waiting, finally had his doors widened by the South Australian Housing Authority for wheelchair access. However, when SAHA had widened the door to accommodate the older gentleman’s need for mobility access, had failed to make the door electronically accessible, which meant that his best chance at leaving home was three to four hours each day, wherein a support worker would be on duty.

“Look, I get it, I get it, y’know, you get swamped with probably hundreds of requests for resolving problems, whether it’s that your plumbing is broken or your light fitting is not working or whatever and you’ve got to attend to crises but this is beyond a joke,” Matilda explained.

“I’ve literally got, now, a gentleman who is trapped in his home and can not escape if there was a fire, if there was an emergency, something bad happened to him — he’d have no chance of getting out of that house. He’s sitting there, rotting away and he gets a carer for maybe four hours a day and he can get out only when the carer is there.

“He will have to, on occasion, call me or somebody else to organise for someone to go down there. At best, we might take 45 minutes to organise ourselves to drive there and help him get out of the house.”

Another client, a woman who had suffered frequent medical emergencies, had lost the keys to her home and is similarly trapped, with SAHA refusing to respond to the need by her many agency carers for locks to be re-keyed to a single key in order to gain quick, safe and easy access.  The woman has been trapped without being able to get carers into her home.

“I’m absolutely ropeable, I’m hopping mad that this is not the first time and it is becoming more and more problematic,” Ms Bawden said.

In yet another case, a woman who is blind had been told to consider leaving her house of over 20 years, directly across from her twin sister who provides care when needed. The woman had been advised to consider moving because the SAHA had refused to install ceiling fans, despite being funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Instead, the woman has been left to use pedestal fans and portable air conditioning during extreme heat conditions — an obvious tripping hazard for someone with a vision impairment.

“I have, in person, with my clients, walked into the Elizabeth and the Gawler offices of the Housing Trust and we have requested to speak to certain housing managers or certain officers in the staff — we’ve been denied, we’ve been told ‘oh, look, somebody will call you back, just leave your name and contact number.’ Nobody ever calls you back, which is the same thing with members of Parliament, local and the minister,” Ms Bawden continued.

“[SAHA] don’t give a rat’s about what’s happening to people who are vulnerable.”

Matilda also shared the story of another woman with acquired brain injury who experienced seizures during extreme heat conditions and had her application for the installation of fans and air conditioner ignored, despite NDIS funding the goods, with full recommendations from an occupational therapist.

“The quality of SAHA public services is, at best, dismal. The entire department needs an overhaul and staff training needs to be provided in the importance of the role of public servant and customer service,” Ms Bawden concluded.


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