Couple battle red tape to house disabled son

'I don't want to die knowing he's not safe'

HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2014
Marcus Amataiti
ROBYN EDIE/ Fairfax NZ

HOME SEARCH: Invercargill couple Ron and Shirley Birt, both 72, with their severely disabled son Marcus Amataiti, 18 years, share a precious family moment. 

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The Birts are right now possibly living every parent's worst nightmare.

Ron and Shirley, after a lifetime of caring for their adopted disabled son, Marcus Amataiti, 18, want to be sure their disabled son is settled in a safe, permanent home before they die.

The stark reality is that the Invercargill couple, both 72, can no longer provide fulltime care for Marcus. Added to that, Ron Birt has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

As Shirley says: "We would love to have him home but we're getting too old".

"I don't want to die knowing my Marcus has to be moved from place to place," his mum said.

"He is one of the most vulnerable, the part of the community who needs help the most."

They have topped up his benefits with their pension and in the past 10 months spent $4800 to supplement his care. They have battled red tape to secure him a home - this week it appears they may be on the road to success.

Marcus, who the Birts adopted as a child, was denied a Housing NZ property because he could not sign his own name, Shirley said.

 

He was born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and autism, suffers from seizures, and is non verbal.

The Birts realised they could no longer provide fulltime care for him after Ron was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The couple contacted a number of government agencies to discuss help but they felt the best option was for Marcus to secure a house through Housing New Zealand.

A Housing New Zealand representative told the couple he was not eligible for his own home because he could not sign his name, Shirley said. They say since then they have hit a roadblock in finding him a home.

However, Housing New Zealand say they had no record of the Birts contacting them on Marcus' behalf.

Housing New Zealand regional manager Symon Leggett said there was no discussion at the meeting about arranging a home for Marcus under his own name through Housing New Zealand, and they had no record of the Birts contacting them later on Marcus' behalf.

"In a situation like Marcus', if he was unable to sign paper work for whatever reason, this wouldn't be an issue as long as he had somebody who had the legal authority to sign on his behalf - for example, a power of attorney. We would also be able to allocate a bedroom for fulltime live in caregivers which we understand Marcus requires."

Shirley is Marcus' court appointed welfare guardian.

"We rang them about a month ago and were told quite categorically by the young man that because Marcus is not mentally competent and can't sign his own name, he would not be eligible for social housing."

Since The Southland Times contacted Housing New Zealand about their situation the agency had "done a complete about face," Shirley said.

They began an application process for a house yesterday.

For the past year Marcus has been in a rental property.

But his $300 per week invalid's benefit barely covered the $210 rent, let alone power, food, and clothing, Shirley said.

He could not have safety equipment he needed in the house, like safety rails in the bathroom, she said.

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"The Southern DHB have agreed they will fund all this if he had a permanent home, but they won't put it in a private rental property," Shirley said.

He was given a temporary grant from Work and Income New Zealand to cover the bond and to install some safety equipment in the home, but he must pay that back, she said.

His fulltime care is funded by the Ministry of Health, and his parents cover the shortfall for his necessities such as pharmacy prescriptions, and topping up his food and power.

- The Southland Times

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