Autistic teen Miles Kirsh: Province steps in to provide housing

Posted on September 28, 2012 in Child & Family Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – news/gta
September 24, 2012.   Laurie Monsebraaten,  Social Justice Reporter

Miles Kirsh will not be homeless next week.

The provincial ombudsman’s office has assured Donna Kirsh that Ontario’s social services ministry is working to find a way to keep her 19-year-old autistic son in respite care until funding for permanent group home care is available.

“They phoned this morning to say Miles won’t be homeless,” said Donna, who had contacted the Star and then the ombudsman about the case last week. “It is a tremendous relief.”

In the meantime, the Barrie-area respite home where Miles has been staying since Sept. 5 has reduced its $400-a-day cost by $80.

They were able to do this by dropping Miles’ one-to-one daily care to eight hours, from 12 hours.

A spokesperson for Ombudsman André Marin, who obtained permission from Donna Kirsh to speak publicly about the case Monday, said the Sunday Star’s story on Miles helped to highlight the issue.

“Our understanding is that Miles will be allowed to stay in his respite bed until another appropriate placement can be found,” said spokesperson Linda Williamson. “He will not be homeless. He will not be on the street. We are very pleased that we were able to achieve this resolution.”

The government is still working out funding details, Williamson said.

“But our understanding is they have committed to finding a place for him,” she said. “Our office will continue to keep a close eye on the case.”

Last year, the ombudsman’s office raised 28 similar cases with the Ministry of Community and Social Services. It flagged the lack of services for adults with developmental disabilities as a trend in its annual report in June.

Since April 1 this year, the office has investigated 26 complaints, indicating the problem is getting worse, Williamson said.

As reported in the Sunday Star, Miles functions at the level of a 3-year-old. He is largely non-verbal and responds to stressful situations by shrieking, biting himself, slapping surfaces, ripping his clothing and occasionally destroying property.

His parents’ marriage has collapsed under the weight of caring for their severely disabled son. They sold the family home at the end of August and Miles was placed in group-home care on Sept. 5.

Donna Kirsh said they were assured Miles would never be out on the street.

Instead, after 10 days in respite care, they were told Miles’ funding would run out on Oct. 1.

Donna said one provincial bureaucrat told her that if she could no longer care for Miles at home, she could drop him off at a shelter.

Officials with York Support Services Network, which co-ordinates care for Miles and about 1,000 other developmentally disabled adults and children in the region, said they had expected provincial emergency funding to kick in to help the teen.

But they were shocked to learn from provincial officials late last month there was no money in the region for Miles or anyone else in crisis.

A ministry spokesperson, who was not permitted to speak about individual cases, said the government continues to address the needs of developmentally disabled people with severe high needs on a case-by-case basis.

The Star and the Kirsh family have received numerous emails from readers moved by Miles’ story.

Several wanted to raise money for Miles through social media. Others wanted to make personal donations to the family.

Donna says she has been overwhelmed by the response and is grateful that her son’s plight has touched a nerve.

“I just hope other families don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through,” she said.

Donna, who works as an interior designer, estimates the family has spent more than $750,000 on support, private school and treatment since Miles was diagnosed with autism at age 2. But she says they never wanted to rely on government funding.

However, when Miles became an adolescent, the family could no longer manage the growing boy’s tendency to wander, his self-injurious behaviours and his insomnia. Just after he turned 16, the family turned to community agencies.

“It’s crushing to have to ask for help when I really expected better outcomes for both Miles and our family,” Donna said.

But she has no regrets.

“I believe investing in your child is always a good investment,” she said. “Without our investment, maybe he would have been in care much earlier.”

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