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Disabled family forced to sleep on sofas for years as authorities can't get them house they need

By Cate McCurry

Published 24/09/2016

Joe, Ross and Lisa Forbes at home in their living room where they sleep
Joe, Ross and Lisa Forbes at home in their living room where they sleep
Ross Forbes is unable to climb the stairs
Lisa has to sleep on the sofa

A Belfast man is being forced to sleep on a living room sofa with his disabled wife and son every night because of a severe lack of suitable housing.

Ross Forbes is a full-time carer for his partner and son, who both suffer from mobility issues that leave them unable to use the stairs in their home.

The family, who first told their story to the BBC's Nolan Show, are living in unimaginable circumstances and have been desperately trying to find a new home for more than a year.

Ross, (47), sleeps on a two-seater couch while his partner, 46-year-old Lisa, who suffers from lymphedema and leg ulcers, has been sleeping on a corner sofa for more than two years.

"Her legs are swollen from her feet right up to her thighs and are full of fluid, which makes it difficult for her to walk and go up the stairs," Ross said.

Their son Joseph (20), suffers several seizures a day as a result of a fall at work in October 2013. In March this year, a severe seizure left him in a wheelchair and unable to speak. For almost seven months, the young man has spent every night sleeping next to his mother on the sofa in a 10-foot room.

The family have attended meetings with the North Belfast Housing Association and the Housing Executive in an attempt to find suitable accommodation, but they were told nothing suitable was available.

"We need a four-bedroom house for myself, my partner, son and two daughters," Ross said.

"My daughters have their own bedrooms and are fine, but Lisa needs me to be there to help lift her off the sofa and to get her to the toilet.

"We are all in complete agony and now with me lying on the sofa my leg has swollen up. I have got cellulitis and I had four ulcers on one leg. Those ulcers burst and I had to go to hospital for two weeks."

Ross was forced to work part-time so he could look after his son and partner. However, the father-of-three suffered a breakdown in June and has been off work with depression.

SDLP MLA Nicola Mallon, who has been helping the family, said she was "appalled" by the conditions they had been forced to live in.

"I have never seen a situation like this," she added. "I was appalled and immediately arranged a meeting with the Housing Executive. It was made clear by the social workers and occupational therapist that they couldn't adapt their current house to meet their needs. They need a wheelchair-accessible house. It's a family at breaking point and they can't take it any more."

A Housing Executive spokesperson said the case was a priority. "We are determined to find a suitable solution as soon as possible," they added.

"This family are North Belfast Housing Association tenants and we were made aware of changes in their situation earlier this year. Since then, we have worked closely with their housing association to find a suitable solution.

"However, the needs of this family are extremely complex and we do not have any properties of the particular type they require in the area they have requested to live in.

"We have pursued the option of trying to build a house of this type and we have tried to buy land to facilitate this."

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