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Community Affairs References Committee
Adequacy of existing residential care arrangements available for young people with severe physical, mental or intellectual disabilities in Australia

ILIOPOULOS, Mr Christos, Chief Executive Officer, Freedom Housing Pty Ltd and Freedom Key Pty Ltd


CHAIR: Welcome. I understand you have been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence?

Mr Iliopoulos : Yes.

CHAIR: We have a document here. Are you lodging this as a submission?

Mr Iliopoulos : Yes, I am.

CHAIR: We will accept it as evidence later on through our official processes. I invite you to make an opening statement.

Mr Iliopoulos : I think, to put Freedom Housing into perspective, it would be a good idea to give you a macro view of my situation and then to describe this model, how it addresses the concerns you have been hearing over the last couple of weeks and that I have been hearing with you today, and the frustrations that need to be resolved. I would say at the outset that Freedom Housing is able to address most, if not all, of those issues to do with housing, care and the processes of transition, early intervention and lifelong care, in a deliberated and rational way.

I walked out of a doctor's surgery with my wife when I was 24, she was 23, and we had just been told that she had multiple sclerosis. I walked back in two hours later to ask him what I could expect and he said, 'You may lose your wife in two years, or she may live to 50 or so.' That was the moment when I realised that we would have a challenge. We had two children at the time, small babies, and so the trajectory of our lives was determined and moderated by that event. I am 60 now and Pamela passed away three years ago. The experiences I have had in looking after her, and our family has had in looking after her, with multiple sclerosis, are basically distilled into the concept of Freedom Housing. The concept is dedicated to Pamela but also mindful of people like myself who receive this sort of news and who would require some hope about how to actually manage. You have heard from others today—I do not need to go over what they have said—about how difficult it is to manage with a person who has disabilities.

We looked after Pam at home for quite some time but there came a time, as you have already heard, when care at home was not possible to the degree that was necessary and when a decision had to be made about whether she could stay at home or she had to be relinquished to a nursing home. That is the only option in this system and has been for a long time. So a person goes from having full independence and freedom living at home, an authentic existence, and then has to go to a custodial, institutional model of care where that freedom is taken away from her and she must live a directed life. It is quite dramatic and it does horrible things to the individual and to the family.

The reason I invented Freedom Housing was to allow people to remain in the family home throughout their life and, in fact, to die there too if they should wish that. Freedom Housing is a private development. People build these, buy them or lease them. The entire family stays in them, and the person with a disability receives 24/7 care. That means it frees the family up to be economically active and it enables 24/7 care to be provided to that person in a normal family home within the community. We heard one of the witnesses earlier say that what she wanted was for there not to be carers but for the carers to be just sisters, mothers and fathers. This is the experience we have had too. Our children had to be carers through their formative years. I think that is really a human rights issue. I do not think that should happen. We even have support groups now for young carers, which is accepting this development as a legitimate thing. That is quite sad.

Freedom Housing basically allows people to live in normal houses out in the suburbs, in apartments in the cities or in remote communities and receive 24/7 care. They choose who they live with. It could be their family or it could be when they transition out of the family home with people of their choice. It could be a young persons' household with one person with disabilities or more. They may find a partner, and they can continue to live in Freedom Housing. They can raise their children in Freedom Housing, and they can pass away in Freedom Housing. So it negates the need for institutional care. If Freedom Housing were instituted, most demand for nursing homes and group accommodation facilities would perish. The model is also good for aged care or a combination. Quite often a family will have multiple disabilities. We heard from one witness earlier whose husband has an acquired brain injury and she has Parkinson's. In that case, they may both live in Freedom Housing and receive over time the care that they require without splitting up the family. Children can also live there, because it is a private family home.

CHAIR: Funding?

Mr Iliopoulos : Funding is by private investors. The government does not need to intervene here. Although, I would suggest that one of the ways you could get around funding is to develop a scheme similar to Defence Housing Australia's system. Defence Housing finances the building, but then sells to investors who keep the property for nine years. A similar model could work for Freedom Housing. The government does not need to find the funds. There will not be any lazy capital sitting around. Private investors will look after that.

You can see in front of you on a single piece of paper a schematic or concept plan. It looks very symmetrical, but the houses do not need to look the same. The houses can look radically different from each other as long as they are conjoined to the Freedom Key, which is the care facility. They can be made of any fabric and any size. The houses can be built to whatever specification that a family desires, since it is the family home, and may be built basically anywhere. They can also be retrofitted into existing infrastructure.

The ongoing provision of physiotherapy—and therapy generally—is provided through the physio room and the physiotherapy pool. There is also a lounge and a kitchen in the common area. The main function of that is to provide access from one house to the other for the carers. Four houses are conjoined because of the economies of scale it provides, and also for the social cohesion opportunity that it provides. The model itself is very economical to run with four care packages. The costs are markedly reduced because the state does not have to provide the accommodation and does not have to employ other staff apart from providing packages for carers.

Senator MOORE: So at this stage it is a concept? You have not made it work anywhere.

Mr Iliopoulos : We are building the first one in Gippsland, in Sale. At the moment we are waiting on DHS to provide the appropriate packages, because Sale is not in an NDIS area.

Senator MOORE: So you need four people who get a package?

Mr Iliopoulos : Yes. Four families have been identified. They are keen to get going.

Senator MOORE: They want to do it.

Mr Iliopoulos : We are waiting on DHS now. We have the land option on an estate just north of Sale. We are just waiting now for DHS to come up with the packages for us.

Senator MOORE: It is a really interesting option.

Mr Iliopoulos : I have gestated this over many years.

Senator MOORE: We can see that from your research here. It is very impressive.

Mr Iliopoulos : Thank you.

Senator MOORE: Have you actually spoken with other people who are in the housing area about the range of housing options for people with disabilities that are being discussed? Have you talked with other people in that area?

Mr Iliopoulos : Yes, I have—and with organisations that were here. They have shown no interest. The developers are not particularly interested because this is really a social enterprise. Unless they see immediate dollars, they are not interested. My hope would be that senators would recommend that a pilot be financed for at least 18 months where we could iron out the physical design and also the operational protocols—they are already written—to make it market ready. At the moment we are building one—we want to build one in Sale—but it is not piloted. It will be one that functions for people that are buying into this because they are desperate to get in.

Senator MOORE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Once we have had a look at it in more detail, we will get back to you with questions.

Mr Iliopoulos : Okay, thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you to all our witnesses today for their time and commitment. We will reconvene mid-morning tomorrow in Tasmania.

Committee adjourned at 14 : 55