Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Article excerpt

Parents accustomed to a free and appropriate public education for their special children are shocked to find that there is no comparable housing assistance program when it is time for their adult children to finish school and leave home. An adult child's SSI income is usually less than the average monthly apartment rent in his neighborhood, so most adult children with disabilities will need both housing and community support subsidies to live independently. The problem is that there is no entitlement to either Section 8 housing or community based waiver assistance and the waiting lists for help are long.

Faced with these hard realities, families, often with advocacy organization help, have taken the lead in developing innovative supportive living arrangements for their children with disabilities. Developing a home for adult children is a substantial challenge, as the Marram Place parents have learned. (See Page 16 for a description of their struggle.) How to maintain and fund independent homes for adults with disabilities in the long run is an even greater challenge--a challenge which families, advocacy organizations and non-profit housing groups in western North Carolina are working together to meet.

Working Together

The Marram Place parents are so pleased with the home they have made for their sons that they wanted to help other parents reach the same goal more quickly. To provide that help, Roxanne Colwell, Program Coordinator of the Family Support Network of WNC, organized two housing workshops as part of her Fall 2009 Series: They Will Not Be Kids Forever!

Planning for the two housing workshops brought together local affordable housing experts, representatives from advocacy organizations serving the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, brain injured and autism communities, plus the Marram Place parents. The first workshop featured ARC's local housing representative, who outlined basic housing options, plus personal accounts of group home placements, Section 8 apartment living with a live-in caregiver and an Alternate Family Living arrangement. A local non-profit housing manager was the lead speaker at the second workshop that focused on creative housing options. The Marram Place parents and their house manager led a panel discussion about their sons' urban home and the founder of A Full Spectrum Farms described the rocky road to development of a rural home for disabled adults. After many hard questions from the workshop participants, planners outlined the next steps on their agenda.

But the final word from a young woman strapped into her wheelchair said it all: she described her dream of an independent, normal life shared with a companion in their own place.

Step I: Website

The workshop planners thought a website would be the best way to make the useful information we had developed more widely available. Because adults with disabilities have widely different needs and interests, we are also building a website list of creative housing models nationwide and would welcome additions from readers. WNC Housing, Inc., a local non-profit housing group, has agreed to sponsor the website that we hope will be up and running soon.

The website team will continue working together to develop funding options that will, we all hope, help produce viable housing for the disabled in the long run. We call our group My Own Key: A private, public, nonprofit and charitable collaborative working to develop housing opportunities for adults with disabilities. The name honors the special daughter of one of our group who told her mother that the day she got her own key to a Section 8 apartment was the happiest day of her life. The collaborative effort of families and experts from different backgrounds has helped the creative planning process by letting us, together, connect dots that are not usually on the same page.

Step II: Long Term Charitable Funding

The advocacy organization that is doing a wonderful job managing Marram Place was the parents' first choice to take title to the property when they could no longer actively participate in their sons' lives. …

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