Centennial College is partnering with Community Living Toronto (CLT) to launch a program that pairs students and individuals living with intellectual disabilities in a shared living arrangement.
The research project, titled “Friendly Housemates,” will monitor roommates over the course of the school year, starting in September.
Matthew Poirier, the community support coordinator at CLT, said one of the goals of Friendly Housemates is to assess whether the living arrangement could offer people with intellectual disabilities a way to live independently in the community, outside of traditional support models like paid living assistance or group homes.
“For the individuals that we support, we really hope to see that they begin to develop those life skills and that feeling of independence,” Poirier said.
Students accepted to the program will receive free housing for the duration of the school year, a small bursary, and a guaranteed summer job with CLT.
CLT offers support and services for individuals with intellectual disabilities, according to the organization’s website.
Marilyn Herie, research lead for Friendly Housemates, said she thinks the program is a “great opportunity” to provide free housing to students, but not without risks.
“You want to assure that the student is approaching this for the right reasons,” Herie said.
Students must provide a statement of intent, academic transcript, and character references in order to qualify for the program, according to Herie.
In the final stages of the application process, students are interviewed by a panel which includes the family members of the person they would live with, as well as the housemate themselves.
According to Herie, several students and individuals with disabilities have already been matched, but the project is still accepting new applicants. The goal is to match 10 pairs of housemates, she said.
Most student applicants are from Centennial College, but the program will also accept students from other colleges and universities in Toronto.
Poirier said many applicants are from programs related to disability studies, but this is not a requirement to participate.
“[Students] are not getting involved because they have experience in the field, they’re getting involved because they see the value in people with disabilities being involved in their communities, and they feel like they possess those characteristics to be a good friend and a good housemate,” Poirier said.
A Friendly Housemates pilot project was previously launched by Centennial College and CLT in January 2015.
A student from the Developmental Service Worker program at Centennial was paired with a young man with Down Syndrome, Poirier said.
The pair lived together for a five-month period under observation from project leaders. After the project concluded, the pair volunteered to continue living together, and did so for another year until the student graduated from Centennial.
Poirier said the program can help change the stigma that people with disabilities “should be kept separate from everybody else.”
“If we give them the opportunity to live with a housemate, with friends, just like you and I have the opportunity to do, they can thrive in their communities and in their city,” he said.