An advocacy group in Nova Scotia is calling for more government investment in small option homes for people with developmental disabilities.
In a Jan. 4 open letter addressed to finance minister Karen Casey, Wendy Lill, chair of the Community Homes Action Group, said that a lack of government investment in community supported living has reached “crisis proportion.”
Small option homes are residences for individuals with developmental disabilities. Unlike accessible housing, the kinds of support they offer are not related to their physical layout.
“We’re not talking about bricks and mortar,” Lill said in an interview. “We’re talking about the kind of assistance and supports that are needed for people that have intellectual disabilities and are on the autism spectrum.”
For these individuals, this means human resources.
Small option homes – which house a maximum of four residents – create a family-like environment for people with disabilities. In the home, residents are supported by respite workers who help them perform everyday tasks, like cooking and laundry. The goal is for residents to gain a level of independence and feel like part of a community, as opposed to being housed in group care facilities.
But according to Lill, the demand for small option homes in Nova Scotia far exceeds the current capacity.
In 2013, she was part of a team of community and government members who designed an implementation plan, referred to as a Roadmap, to transform the provincial Disability Support Program (DSP). Despite their recommendation that government invest more money into small option homes, Lill said the waitlist for services has only gotten longer.
A spokesperson for the Department of Community Services said in an email that there are 700 people on the DSP service request list who have identified small option homes as their first choice for a DSP program. Of these 700, 580 receive other supports while they wait for a small option home.
The provincial government committed to building four small option homes in the 2016 budget, and another four in 2017. In 2018, another eight homes were promised. Lill said this is far from enough.
In her letter, she calls for investment in 25 homes per year for the next three years.
Individuals with developmental disabilities often end up living in their family homes well into adulthood. Lill said this can cause mental, financial, and emotional strain for families.
“It’s a little bit invisible right now because you sort of think ‘Well, people are just staying at home longer.’ But in fact it’s a general depletion of resources that’s happening here,” she said.
Sharon Yeadon understands the strain all too well.
Yeadon has four children. Her oldest son, Andrew, has Tourette’s syndrome. His younger brother, Christopher, has Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Christopher just turned 22. He still lives with his mother and father.
Since her sons were diagnosed with their conditions, Yeadon has been unable to return to full-time work. The demands she needs to meet at home are too great.
“My role has just been to advocate for them, full time, non-stop, from morning to night,” she said.
“I’m getting older, my husband’s getting older. We feel exhausted, not just physically but emotionally and mentally.”
Yeadon and her husband are in search of a small option home for Christopher. Yeadon says this would provide a smooth transition for Christopher from his family home into a more independent living situation.
Besides, she wants something in place for him as she and her husband age.
“It’s imperative for us that we know that Christopher is settled in some kind of place where he’s being cared for in the event that we’re not able to do it.”
Yeadon says a small option home is more personal.
“Do I want to take Christopher and plunk him in a home somewhere? No I don’t,” she said “I know it has to be the right fit, it’s got to be good for him, it’s got to be good for those that he’s with.”
This past summer, Yeadon received a call from the Department of Community Services informing her that a place in a small option home had become available.
But she said she felt it wasn’t the right fit for him at the time, particularly because it would mean that all of the current respite work and activities Christopher was used to participating in would end. All the family’s respite funding would be put towards the home.
“I know the perfect place isn’t out there, but it’s got to be right,” she said.
But with a significant waitlist, the Department of Community Services told Yeadon it would likely be two years before Christopher’s case was revisited.
“The older he gets, the more we realize how important it is that he have some place that he can go and live independently with other people. It becomes more and more clear to me all the time,” said Yeadon.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Community Services said it’s too early to comment on the provincial budget, and that specific details will not be announced until the 2020-2021 budget is released.
“We recognize the importance of this work and we continue to move toward the goals identified in the 2013 Roadmap,” the statement reads. “For example, in the past year, eight small option homes have been in various stages of development, with plans to have them open by the end of this year.”