Krystal, an actor who has Down syndrome, was looking to move out of her family home. Then 25, she had some away-from-home experience as a teen at summer camp, but she needed extra support to make the move into an apartment on her own. “I was ready to challenge myself,” says Krystal, “and I didn’t feel I could do that in my mom’s house—in that environment, if you know what I mean.”
Believe me, I do—I’m Krystal’s mother. When she and I attended a workshop presented by Lights, a program run in partnership with Community Living Toronto, something great happened: We teamed up with Karen Denton, a young woman with Kabuki syndrome (a genetic mutation that can cause developmental disability, among other issues), and her mother, Margaret Harper. Later, we met with Lights senior facilitator Laura Starret, who helped us create our own supported-housing model. The five of us agreed the apartment should be within walking distance of a subway station and have three bedrooms: one for each daughter, and a third for a “friendly housemate” who would live rent-free while providing mentorship and security.
Finding the perfect housemate was tricky. We sent email blasts to our disability networks and posted ads through community colleges that offered social service diplomas. Margaret and I conducted preliminary interviews before introducing Krystal and Karen to the finalists. The other big challenge was finding a three-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s hot and frantic rental market, which meant weeks of shlepping to open houses before finding a duplex with a disability-friendly landlord. Rewards: Though the logistics of the living situation have since changed, the arrangement was an enriching experience for everyone involved. Since the three housemates all lead busy lives—housemate Maggie Sulc works full time in publishing, Karen works lunch hours at a high school and Krystal acts for film and TV—they each had to make an effort to take part in shopping, cooking and cleaning. A bulletin board posted in the kitchen outlined a weekly list of household chores, along with a communal calendar noting everyone’s schedule so they could watch out for one another.
Krystal says that, in just over a year, she learned a lot. “Now, I can make things happen for me and not have other people do it for me,” she says. Karen, on the other hand, plans to one day live “independently” with a roommate, minus the friendly housemate. Why the quotes around independently? “Maggie has taught me that there’s no such thing as independence,” says Karen. “We all rely on someone.” Lesson: Take the risk and help your adult child move out. I wanted to make this happen for Krystal before I was too old to face these challenges and to support the move’s inevitable growing pains. It’s a large task that can be made easier when partnering with other parents.