Individuals with an intellectual disability and their families look to Community Living Toronto for a range of services and supports, including residential options. However, with demand greatly exceeding supply, the wait time for suitable housing is increasing.
“There’s a significant shortage of appropriate residential supports, and waiting is very difficult for many individuals and families,” says Matt Poirier, a community support coordinator with the organization. “We also need to look at alternative housing models to offer more choice. Younger individuals, for example, often don’t want to live in a group home and many people we support, want and can live more independently.”
The search for new models of supportive living is getting a boost from an innovative research partnership between Community Living Toronto and Toronto’s Centennial College. The Friendly Housemates project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, matches first-year students in Centennial’s health and human services programs as live-in roommates in the homes of one or two individuals with an intellectual disability.
“The parents of one individual said they had no idea what that person was capable of – until they experienced the friendship and social inclusion that came from the housemate match.”
— Marilyn Herie is the dean of Learning and Teaching at Centennial College
Students from other colleges and universities will also be sought for the project, which aims to arrange 10 housemate matches for one academic year to two full years.
Community Living Toronto is working with individuals and families to find those who would most benefit. “Prime candidates are individuals exploring semi-independent living or who are already set up in the community, and who want to expand their friendships and social networks,” says Mr. Poirier. The agency, individuals and families will interview the accepted students to ensure the right fit.
The research will evaluate the experiences and outcomes from the living arrangement. “We’ll interview the students, individuals and families, as well as the community workers who will do weekly check-ins and coach and mentor the students,” says Marilyn Herie, dean of learning and teaching at Centennial and the lead researcher. “We’ll document the lessons learned from this model of housing – how did the housemates grow and develop; what challenges did they face?”
A small pilot project at Centennial demonstrated the strong potential for the model, says Dr. Herie. “The parents of one individual said they had no idea what that person was capable of – until they experienced the friendship and social inclusion that came from the housemate match.”
The students benefit from the personal and professional growth that comes from experiential learning and also receive significant living-expenses support.
On a broader scale, the partners anticipate this research will create a supportive living model that can expand in Toronto and to other communities and can also benefit other vulnerable or marginalized populations.