Generosity overwhelms mother with disabled son

Published: 25 Oct 2012 13:000 comments

The kindness of strangers meant a 24-year-old mother and her disabled son were offered a roof over their heads and new furniture after a fire in their home earlier this month.

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Psychology Degree student Teresa Magee's privately rented home in Cavanacarragh was badly damaged in a house fire, leaving her effectively homeless. With smoke damage to the property, she felt it was unsuitable for her six year old son Shane, who has complex care needs and has a tracheostomy (a breathing tube that by-passes the obstruction he has in his airway). He requires 24-hour care, has epilepsy, a tracheostomy and is registered blind.

"The utility room was completely burned and the whole house is smoke damaged and the kitchen is the worst," she said.

"I got on to the Housing Executive to see if I could get temporary accommodation as the house was unliveable in. The only thing they could offer was a second floor flat beside Tescos which was £168 a week but my housing benefit is £78 a week. I am a student. So that would be impossible," she said.

A person who wishes to remain anonymous has given Teresa and her son a home in Enniskillen while their home is repaired.

And local businesses -- Bracken Beds, Furnish, Delta Direct and Mullan Domestic -- have all given her items from their shops to replace her smoke damaged belongings.

Conversely, Teresa felt there was a lack of sympathy from social services as to her plight.

"I went over to Social Services and the duty social worker on at the time were not much help. She told me 'we do not have pots of gold'. They were a bit patronising. They should know that a fire is extremely stressful. She asked: 'who said he can't live there?' Surely as a parent as an adult I should not need to be told. I was looking for a safe environment for Shane who has complex health care needs," she said.

Her son had to sleep on a mattress on the floor for five nights as she could not get help to move his bed.

"We asked to have Shane's bed moved. It is a disability bed for pressure sores. We had been trying for five days to get the bed moved. Because he was coughing a lot we were worried with him lying on a mattress on the floor. If Shane needs an emergency tracheostomy change at night, he needs to be up at your level," said Teresa.

An intervention by MLA Tom Elliott saw the bed moved in an afternoon.

She believes there are "gaps in the service". And she feels she is being penalised because she is trying to better her life through taking a degree course in Derry. She is studying Psychology and attends University three days a week.

"As a student I do not get Carers' Allowance and I am only in College eight hours a week but it is classed as a full-time course. My Income Support was stopped which rules out other help through community care grants.

I was encouraged to do this and now I feel I am being penalised. I do not get Carers' allowance or Income Support and my Housing Benefit is down to £78. The accommodation they were offering me cost £170 a week. Not many people working full-time could afford that," she said

She feels as a student she has no choice but to get into debt. In her second year of study, she could not get Income Support as she had potential access to a student loan. "You have no choice but to get into debt".

"My aim is to get my degree and get off benefits. I could easily sit and claim Carers' Allowance and Income Support forever.

"I can't move up to Derry as Shane has his care package here and is settled in school so I have to drive up and down. I have to go through the barriers," she said.

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