“When people with disabilities don’t have a chance to be among all the people in their neighbourhoods,” said Janet Klees, Executive Director of Durham Association for Family Respite Services, “those neighbourhoods are less – they aren’t able to be full members and make their own contributions. Everyone loses out.”
A group of families and staff from this family support organization will be hosting a session called When Families Take Charge…Home, Housing and Support at Community Living Ontario’s upcoming conference in September (click here for conference information).
The presentation will highlight the experiences of families working together to find vibrant, diverse and individualized housing solutions for and with family members who have a disability. Some of those experiences have been captured in a dynamic 10-minute video called Imagining Home.
“We support families to figure out how to help build a good life in communities for and with their sons and daughters, and of course that includes housing,” added Klees.
Over the last two years, with some assistance from the organization and two part-time housing coordinators through their Developing Services Housing Task Force project, 30 families have come together to learn with and from each other to find the best possible living situations for their loved ones.
Eight families have found housing setups that have worked for them; such as getting a family home with a separate apartment and figuring out innovative ways to request very modest support budgets.
Meanwhile, 12 other families have joined together to form the ‘Intentionally Built Community’ group that focuses on working with builders on larger projects. Fully incorporated, this initiative intends to partner with builders and social housing consultants on apartment buildings where they are committed to ensuring that only 10 per cent of the total units would be reserved for people who have a disability. The remainder of the building would provide housing for the typical mix of citizens.
The families are working within a clear set of guiding principles and they’re not interested in congregation or segregation; the housing ratios would be typical, allowing for what Klees referred to as “Lots of diversity, so that a vibrant community can emerge.”
“We start with the assumption that everybody has something to contribute to their community and neighbourhood…When people with disabilities are kept separate, there just isn’t the opportunity to be a typical neighbour and offer assistance to others, but also receive assistance from other people.”
She explained the necessity of intentional communities, describing how such neighbourhoods might be intentionally built within a new building, but might also emerge when neighbours dedicate time and energy into an existing neighbourhood.
As is typical with most of us, people who have a disability often don’t want to live with their families forever, but nor do they want to go to a group home. Despite this, many families often come to Klees’ organization with these kinds of options in mind because this is all that they have seen.
“We ask people to park those grouped options at the door,” she stated, “and come in with at least an openness to see what else is out there. When they begin to hear from other families who have tried other things, and begin to tap into the many creative ideas out there, they’re so much more able to make a good choice that would really suit their son or daughter well.”
“For some people it’s just the next step, and for other people it is what they imagine the future is going to look like.”
Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario