While working on a housing project with families who have members with developmental disabilities, a clear intention has emerged: Families want to find housing for their sons or daughters so they can live away from them. Families want their children, all of their children, to learn to be as independent as possible but remaining at home with aging parents does not allow adults with developmental disabilities to do that and it doesn’t release the parents from the pressing concern of what happens after they die; an unpleasant certainty with which many people grapple on a daily basis.
While some families will desire something else, many are looking for good examples (and vacancies) that will allow their adult children the opportunity to learn to live independently or semi-independently. One fault with the group home system was that the ‘learning’ and ‘living’ were separated and dependency continued through staff. While we cannot fully get away from the need for service provision, families are interested in moving towards a ‘living in community’ model of neighbours, friends and family that respects and accepts our loved ones, regardless of additional needs. With the Baby Boomers moving on in age, they represent the largest section of the population who will need service: our sons and daughters will suddenly not be so different.
As a mother of a 12 year old with Down Syndrome, I knew that there was little available for him in regards to housing, although it won’t be needed for a number of years. This realization came about 5 years ago at a time when I also noticed that there was a housing shortage for seniors in my neighbourhood. I thought that if I ‘cracked that nut’, I might find a solution for my own son. Because seniors also have high service level needs, my thinking began to center on the possibility of shared-service requirements; if one population of individuals had similar service needs to another, would there be opportunity for both groups to share services, share housing, share their strengths and complement each other to overcome weaknesses? And if seniors could be coupled with the developmental disability sector, what about other populations? An idea emerged in my mind - that the entire sector of community housing, which presently segregates populations, might someday be changed to assist the integration of all persons and populations to live more fully in their communities.
Because of Baby Boomers, there now exists the expectation that a senior has the right to live independently, even if they need supports; well my son too. And if I have that expectation for him, then I should have it for all. Once we join with that larger population, our children will not be segregated, labeled impossible or beyond hope. A brighter future has suddenly emerged and we just have to tag along.
Always go where there is hope; Never where there is none.