Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Alternative Housing For Our Vulnerable

It's true, I've been a little lazy of late, and haven't been blogging much.  But then something came across my Facebook Page, shared by an old school friend who is all too familiar with the inadequacies of housing for some of our most vulnerable members of our communities.  She, and other families like her, have committed themselves to advocating on behalf of loved ones.  The closest I have come is filling the role of primary caregiver for my aging parents — close enough to realize that there is much to learn if we are to bring comfort, companionship and dignity to those that fall into this spectrum, be it because of mental or physical challenges, age, race, gender or sexual orientation.  But I always knew my challenges would have an expiration date.  As a parent, there is not always that luxury.   Parents of children with disabilities always worry about what will happen to their child when they are no longer able to support them.   After doing a little digging, not only did I find some interesting housing concepts, I found a few problems that I heretofore was not even aware of.

The article my friend shared was about The Villages at Noah’s Landing, a gated community specifically designed for people with developmental disabilities, in Lakeland, Florida.  This 56-acre site, soon to be developed into a gated community for people with developmental disabilities along with sister property in Jacksonville, has the distinction of being the first of its type in Florida.  Financed primarily with low-income housing tax credits, the project will offer safe, affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Unlike state licensed group homes, Noah’s Landing will operate independently, with oversight provided by staff, volunteers and parents, along with monitoring from state social workers.

It’s a concept gaining acceptance nationwide, providing a stimulating community setting for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are capable of living with some degree of independence.  The inclusive community, with some oversight provided by parent volunteers, provides a level of trust that most other residential settings can’t provide.  The complex will be composed of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments. Additional phases will include more housing, an assisted-living facility, fishing dock and recreational areas. Ultimately, the community could house up to 224 individuals.

Although perhaps a housing model new to Florida, it's a concept that is not new.  OSPREY Village Inc., in South Carolina, has been under discussion and development since late 2007.  Often referred to by advocates as “a neighborhood with a purpose” this nonprofit venture will feature attractive and purposeful housing, to become a mainstream, non-institutional setting for up to 40 residents, families, and other support team members who will live alongside seniors and other non-disabled residents in a “neighbor-helping-neighbor” arrangement.

How about some other options:  Tiny houses (less than 500sq.ft.) and secondary suites might be perfect for a developmentally disabled adult who craves a home, but needs supervision from parents or caregivers.  People with autism, for example, rely on predictable routines and environments to navigate life; often have issues with sound, may or may not be able to hold a job, but still desire their own private space to call home. Tiny homes provide a place for everything, and everything in its place.  A detached tiny home eliminates the adjacent walls, affording everyone some quiet.  Tiny homes, which typically sell for between $25,000 and $70,000, are often more economical and some are even mobile. 

Municipal bylaws across the country are now allowing (and some even encouraging) secondary suites and carriage homes as a viable solution for many segments of our more vulnerable population.  It is estimated that 25-50% of chronically homeless suffer serious mental illness.  Providing safe and decent housing for people with mental illness is an effective tool in reducing health care costs, including emergency room care, hospitalizations and long-term medical services.    Tiny homes and secondary suites may be an appropriate and affordable option for anyone with a limited income or in need of an affordable housing solution, including seniors, singles or small families which can also benefit from being in close proximity to family; a new and practical twist to multigenerational living.

A little closer to home, in the City of Calgary, Resolve is a capital campaign aimed at finding affordable housing solutions for people who are homeless. The Great Cities report by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce notes that half of the homeless people in Calgary are employed but cannot afford to house themselves. There are nine agencies partnering with the campaign — Accessible Housing, Bishop O’Byrne Housing, Calgary Alpha House Society, Calgary Homeless Foundation, Calgary John Howard Society, Horizon Housing Society, Silvera for Seniors, Trinity Place Foundation of Alberta and The Mustard Seed —  each meeting a particular need within the community.  This level of cooperation is a first, not only for Calgary, but for Canada.

Something I personally have not realized was the need for gay friendly seniors housing.  As a group, older LGBT adults are more socially isolated than their heterosexual peers.  They are twice as likely to live alone, and four times less likely to have adult children.  Considering 80% of senor caregiving is done by adult children, this is a problem.  New York City and other major metropolitan areas across the US are partnering with LGBT advocacy groups in an effort to address this need.

The good news is, we continue to find new ways to solve our problems, to reach out to those in need, to take care of one another.  If you aren't motivated to become a problem solver for the sake of improving your community, perhaps you might want to think about doing it for yourself.  After all, at some point in our lives, most of us will be that vulnerable person, be it through age or illness.  Perhaps in the solutions we find today, we will ultimately be helping ourselves. More food for thought.


No comments:

Post a comment