The movement to close institutions for people with intellectual disabilities has a downside. Michelle Bach, executive-vice president of Canadian Association for Community Living told “The Globe and Mail” that housing is one of the largest issues for individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families. In Ontario alone, 12 000 people with intellectual disabilities are waiting for residential placements. Some have waited for decades, as their parents have aged and become less and less able to care for them.
Ontario put 1.7 billion dollars in the last year into developmental services and residential placements, but the government throwing more and more money at the problem may not necessarily solve it, “The Globe and Mail” reported.
I Heart Closing Institutions!
For the record, I’m totally in favour of closing the institutions. Not just because they’ve got a horrific history of abuse and rights violations for the residents, but because by their very nature they put up so many barriers to having the residents participate fully in the community. For example, when you’ve got a forty people in a building who want to go to church, doesn’t it make more sense to bring in a priest to do a service than to arrange the transportation, staff, etc. that would be required to get forty people to a church service?
I learned in school that it’s cheaper for the government to operate community homes in towns and cities than it is to operate institutions. Where is the money going from the completely closing Ontario’s institutions? Some of it came with the people who left the institutions, of course – and, from I’ve seen in my community of the people who’ve come to live here as the institutions were closed, was put to good use – but I think I assumed that closing the institutions would leave the sector with funding above and beyond what came with the individuals, so that agencies could explore more community-based residential options.
Not Necessarily Group Homes, By The Way
Other residential options have proven successful, even for people with people with disabilities that we’d have traditionally thought too severe to allow the person to have his or her needs met in a community setting, such as these Ontario programs:
- Assisted Living (living in a facility, but independently in a room or small apartment, with whatever access to support the person and facility agree upon).
- Enhanced Supported Independent Living (living with roommates in a house or apartment with 24-hour access to staff).
- Supported Independent Living (living independently with mutually agreed-upon check-ins with staff when support is needed)
- Family Share (Paying rent to live with a family that’s agreed to assist with support needs. Not a foster home environment)
Like I said, I remember hoping that there would be some more money for programs like these once the institutions closed. I also remember saying to someone, as the closure dates for the last institutions got closer, “I think it’s a great thing, but I hope we’re ready. I hope there are enough resources to go around.”
Bring In Some New Ideas!
I think that it’s a great (and necessary) thing that the non-profit sector is starting to develop ways of helping families to maximize their small amounts of government funding to develop housing arrangements (and support arrangements in general). It represents a shift in how people with disabilities, their caregivers, and their support people define, fund and use “supports” that’s long overdue. The journey may not always be comfortable, and will definitely push us into uncharted territory. But we owe it to the 73% of working-age adults with intellectual disabilities who are living in poverty, and the parents well past retirement age who can no longer handle the needs of adult children with intellectual disabilities but must continue because there’s no other choice, to explore all the options.
More about this next week, when I review Donna Thomson’s book, “The Four Walls of My Freedom”.