The Ministry of Community and Social Services has released a report stemming from the Developmental Services Housing Forum it hosted in Toronto back on November 30th. The goal of the forum was to address the large gap between the number of adults who have an intellectual disability requiring appropriate housing and what’s currently available.
While the main event took place in Toronto, it was streamed simultaneously in Ottawa, Orangeville, Thunder Bay, and Chatham, where participants were encouraged to have their own discussions and send their feedback.
According to the report, the forum was meant to “…build on the work of the Developmental Services Housing Task Force (HTF), and to provide an opportunity for people to share their ideas on how to remove barriers, improve opportunities, and support innovative and inclusive housing for adults with developmental disabilities.”
The discussion was kicked off by a panel featuring Mills Community Support CEO Mike Coxon, President of Scarborough Residential Alternatives and Housing Task Force member Bonnie Heath, Executive Director of Community Living St. Marys and Area Marg McLean, and President and CEO of Reena Bryan Keshen.
“Overall, I am pleased to see the tone and direction that the day represented,” said Community Living Ontario Director of Policy Gordon Kyle. “As we would hope, there was a strong focus on individualization, a respectful and helpful discussion of the role that families might play in addressing the issue and a call for a broad community response to the issue beyond the continuing responsibility of the ministry to address the issue on its own.”
There are 70,000 adults who have an intellectual disability in Ontario, 18,000 of which receive residential supports from 360 community agencies. There are 14,900 people on the waitlist for residential service. Options include group homes and group living supports, supported independent living, living with a host family, and other specialized options.
General opinion at the event was that “…there is need for more and more ongoing consultations in the community,” which means that people who have an intellectual disability and their families should be more involved in all decision-making.
According to the ministry, there were six key themes that emerged from the forum:
- Information sharing: It’s important for all involved parties to share information with one another in order to help people with disabilities.
- Humanizing the issue: No matter what problem is being tackled, it’s important to remember that the most important thing to consider is the person with the disability.
- Collaboration and coordination: The initiative should be about “…making a collective impact through coordination and collaboration.”
- Flexibility and choice: Stakeholders must avoid ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions, as the needs of every individual with a disability are different. There must be flexibility in plans and in ways to access funding.
- Affordability and accessibility: Government should creatively tackle housing costs through deals like developer incentives to make housing cheaper.
- Inclusivity and diversity: Much time was spent on how important it is to get away from the current ‘crisis-based’ model of service, where, for instance someone is given a placement only when their caregiver dies. There should be support for living caregivers and more opportunity for their supported people to transition to independent living.
In his assessment, Kyle believed the event did not make clear enough how dire the housing situation is.
“While there were good ‘general’ ideas for moving ahead with developing positive, inclusive, community-based housing options,” he explained, “the conversation did not quite grapple with how we might scale-up efforts in order to begin making significant gains in the current unmet housing need.”
In addition to the waitlist, 535 out of 819 new residential spaces created between 2014 and 2016 went to people who were already funded from youth services instead of people who were awaiting support.
“I think that the forum is helpful,” concluded Kyle, “but so much more is going to have to happen if we are going to begin to turn around the housing challenge, not only for people who have an intellectual disability, but for everyone in this province.”
To read the full report on the forum, click here.
Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario