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It’s time for housing options to get better for people with developmental disabilities advocates say 

Parents of children with autism say it's time people looked at the housing crisis from another perspective.

Barb Ewert (Left) and Susan Harvie (right) both have sons with autism, but they hope their co-housing development will change their quality of life. - THE COAST
  • Barb Ewert (Left) and Susan Harvie (right) both have sons with autism, but they hope their co-housing development will change their quality of life.
  • THE COAST

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utism Nova Scotia has unveiled Building to Better, a white paper document with 29 calls-to-action for government, community and society to create and improve housing options for people with developmental disabilities.

"Fewer people are receiving fewer services," says Paula Hutchinson, senior associate with Horizons Community Development Associates and Building to Better co-author. "Because we don't have a mechanism for them to elevate their own voices—they are dependent on service providers, advocates, family members to speak for them—they are essentially silenced."

While Halifax deals with its own rental housing crisis, folks from the autism and developmental disabilities community are only now having their issues heard after years of quiet suffering.

According to Autism Nova Scotia, there are 23,986 adults in Nova Scotia with developmental disabilities including autism. Of those adults, 96 percent need support or affordable housing. But there aren't enough housing options available in the province especially in rural areas like the Annapolis Valley and Cape Breton.

In Halifax, there are 349 small option (group homes) and 129 large setting (institutions) units available for 8,648 adults in need of housing. To make matters worse, the waitlist, which Hutchinson likens to a hospital triage system, has grown significantly over the last decade. 

Only 38 people received funding for supported living within the last two years that could be used for housing. But in most cases the amount of funding is insufficient for those who require 24/7 support, Hutchinson says.

One option for people with disabilities is to live at home with ageing parents who become increasingly unavailable to their children as they grow older. This option, parents say, causes strains on the parent-child relationship and can impact family members’ mental health.

Another option is to live in large care facilities, like nursing homes or rehab centres, where issues can arise including social isolation and instances of mental and physical abuse.

The solution to many of these issues, Autism Nova Scotia says, is supported housing.

Supported housing is any housing arrangement that combines brick-and-mortar infrastructure with individualized, flexible support services for people with developmental disabilities. Unlike care facilities, supported housing is catered to each individual based on their needs.

In many cases, a person with developmental disabilities may only need occasional assistance and can manage to live an independent life without 24-hour care. In this situation, a small group home or apartment may be the best fit for such a person.

Near Kentville, Susan Harvie is working to create a whole community of supported housing for people like her and her son, Ryan Mills. Mills has severe autism and has been living at a Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre since he was 13 years old. There, he receives basic support and medical care.

Harvie says the day she put her son into a large care facility “was just the worst day of my life.”

“He’s not well there,” she says. “I want him to have a more successful life.”

The new project, named Ryan's Park, will be made up of 18 townhouses, built in a circle, facing inward. The centre will be a safe place, free of traffic and outside noise and will house a common building where neighbours share a living space and kitchen.

Unlike institutionalised housing, Harvie hopes Ryan's Park will reflect the diversity of the world around her; a place where people can learn from Ryan and where Ryan can learn from others.

Harvie says ground will break next month and she hopes her son will be out of the rehab centre and living in the new community within a year.

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