'Give me a tiny piece of hope'

Photo: Emily Lennon, Sophie Lennon, Wesley Joyce and Peter Joyce pictured at their home in Battery Heights.

A “terrified” Athlone mother is pleading with the council to urgently provide her with ground floor accommodation so she can keep her special needs child safe.

Emily Lennon from Battery Heights says her case is an “emergency” because of the dangers to her, and young son Peter Joyce (5), who have both been forced to sleep on a mattress in a downstairs sitting room for the last year because the home is unsuitable for his needs.

It's the only way she can protect him from hurting himself, Emily maintains, explaining that the stairs are the problem in her two-storey house she and her family rent from the council, with her son's bedroom and the home's only toilet/bathroom both on the first floor meaning Emily has to carry him up and down.

But it's the constant danger of an accident that has left her “terrified” and she wants to highlight Peter's case on behalf of other families who have children or adults with disabilities who are "forgotten about."

“I'll take anything at all anywhere just to take him out of danger,” an exasperated Emily, who broke down several times during our conversation, tells the Westmeath Independent this week.

“His room is all done up in Liverpool (colours) and obviously I can't put him in there for his own safety,” she says.

The young mother says that Peter, who is due to go to St Hilda's in September, has the brain function of a 13-month-old, and because of this sees no danger and simply tumbles a lot even over a stair gate, something that forced her to sleep on the ground floor with him.

While she accepts there is a housing crisis, Emily says her case is urgent: “Peter is an emergency compared to other cases. Peter has no understanding of fear or anything...Peter is at risk in that house and so am I.”

Emily believes she was approved for a house transfer last May but nothing has happened in the interim.

It's not Peter's fault he has a lifelong issue that is not going to get better, Emily says, pointing out that the situation is affecting the small steps of development he can make; he has never got used to being in a bedroom, he is very attached to her as a result and toilet training at present is extremely difficult.

“In this day and age it is not acceptable for any child, not just for me, but especially for special needs children, they are forgotten about. It's not an excuse, it's real,” Emily, who shares the home with her partner and father of her two kids Wesley Joyce, and her daughter Sophie (9) explains.

“My rent went up €15 to €75 but I won't pay it (the increase). Why would I pay for a room I'm not using?”

Asked what her message for the local authority is, the Athlone mother begins to cry, saying: “Why, why not come out and see what they are putting me through mentally, I nearly lost him once, no way I'm losing him to an accident. Give me a tiny piece of hope.”

Unfortunately, according to the Disability Federation of Ireland the situation facing Emily and her family is not unique.

A spokesperson says many people with disabilities are on housing waiting lists and DFI has called for 7.5% of social housing to be accessible to people with disabilities to respond to this.

In Westmeath, 12% of people with a disability live in social housing compared to 8% of the general population so the DFI says there is a clear need for accessible social housing to be provided.

It's understood there is a huge demand locally for accessible social housing for those with medical and mobility issues but there is a lack of supply among established council housing stock, and acquiring suitable ground floor or bungalow style housing is difficult in terms of firstly, finding suitable homes, and secondly, the large numbers with specific needs looking for these types of homes.

In a statement, Westmeath County Council says as a rule it does not discuss individual housing applicants with the media.

However, in regard to the general nature of the enquiry , it states: "The council endeavours to address housing applicants particular needs through a variety of measures - matching clients to available and suitable accommodation within our own housing stock, constructing specific accommodation to address needs, purchase of specific accommodation to address needs. Consideration can also be given to extending current tenants accommodation, where feasible, to provide for any specific accommodation needs arising on medical need."

The local authority stresses, however, that the construction and purchase of units, and extension to a tenant's accommodation is dependent on availability of finance for this purpose.

"All housing constructed since 2015 , under construction and currently being designed by Westmeath County Council has incorporated level access with wider front doors, a ground floor wet-room, wider corridors, the elimination of radiators on the ground floor for easier access and wider internal doors, the statement adds.

"We also ensure that all schemes incorporate homes that are single level only with additional facilitates such as shower rooms that allow for assisted care. Similarly, we incorporate universal design apartments with own door access within all our schemes. These are all suitable for people with particular medical needs and are also age-friendly.

"Over 50% of the dwelling units being delivered and at design stage provide full accommodation on a single floor with level access, by way of single-storey housing or accessible apartments," the council statement ends.

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