A group of parents from the Scarborough area remains dedicated to finding housing alternatives for their adult children, and their efforts continue to grow in scope and reach.
When Scarborough Residential Alternatives (SRA) began in 2006, there were six families looking for something different than the traditional group home model.
Bonnie Heath, one of the group’s founders, says Scarborough Residential Alternatives offers parents information on housing, along with encouragement and opportunities to network. They also rely on each other to come up with innovative ideas for alternative living arrangements for their sons and daughters.
For Heath, a group home was not an option for her daughter, Jenny.
“I wanted something different that she had control of and that was more a part of the community.”
According to Heath, the families wanted to find alternative housing for their children, but didn’t want to wait until they were in their 90s to do so. Jenny has been living on her own for the past six years.
“She has a roommate and they have a live in, and she’s just part of the community. When she talks about home it’s her home, it’s not mine anymore. It’s been a total learning experience for her and her roommate, as well as for us, as parents,” says Heath.
Her daughter lives in a townhouse that’s part of a larger complex. When they first moved in, they held an open house for other tenants in the complex so that they could meet their new neighbours. Barbecues and other events have also been organized since their arrival.
Heath says she has seen tremendous personal growth in her daughter since Jenny found a place of her own.
“She would never have had that growth if she continued to live with me. It’s a hard sell to parents because we’re all over protective, but it’s also allowed me to get my life back. We’re still closely connected, but we still have our own separate lives.”
There are eight homes leased by people who have ties with SRA. The types of housing range from condos and townhomes to apartments and houses located in neighbourhoods across the city, not just Scarborough.Today, about 120 families are involved with SRA, and they stay in touch mostly through email.
The group submitted an innovative housing proposal earlier this year, as part of the Ministry of Community and Social Services’Developmental Services Housing Task Force. It was turned down, but they intend to re-apply.
Heath is a member of the Housing Task Force, although she was not part of the Selection Committee that chose the 12 pilot projects that will receive funding.
“We had 80 organizations submit proposals. There’s a huge need and something has to be done that’s different than the way [the Ministry] does it now. Hopefully, the money should be starting to roll out to this first set of projects. From there, we’ll be able to see, over time, how well they work out. The objective of course is to see it work in other areas.”
Heath is a strong supporter of individualized funding for residential supports so that people can live where they want and choose how they want to live their lives. However, she is not in favour of people with intellectual disabilities living together in large group homes.
“Originally, we had tried to get a floor of a building where they could all live. It wasn’t a group home, but it was the same sort of idea. Our proposal wasn’t accepted and, looking back, it was a good thing that is wasn’t because it’s much better the way we’ve done it.”
Heath says she can appreciate why some families may want to push for a group home. However, she thinks having a large number of people living together is problematic and she’s in favour of people living in the community.
“There’s safety in the community, which people don’t seem to think there is. They all think it’s safer for their kids to be in a group home situation. But in the community where Jenny lives, the community looks out for her. I can appreciate why everyone looks at a group home, because it’s less expensive. But to live with 18 people, that’s a lot of people to live with.”
SRA has also developed a guide to assist parents with accessing funding and community supports to enable their sons and daughters to transition into homes of their own.
“I thought let’s make it a simple guide that’s got the Ministry’s web site. It also talks about ODSP and how you get the rent portion. A lot people don’t realize that when you rent somewhere, you receive a couple hundred dollars, approximately. It talks about your Passport dollars and what you can use it for, as well as person-directed planning and independent facilitation – a lot people get the plans done, but they don’t know how to implement the goals.”
The guide is available for download by accessing Scarborough Residential Services’ web site. Families can post ads on the web site for roommates that fit the criteria they’re looking for. SRA will also post notices for support workers.
– Ron Laroche