Our House of Cards|Disability Style (Part 2)
I am going to try to describe what happened to Aaron, my son, when he was 36 years old. Aaron has the labels of autism and developmental disabilities. It is a complicated story. In the comments, let me know if this makes sense.
Click on the Following Articles for Additional Background:
Have you ever rented a house or apartment?
If you answered “yes” you are like the majority of us. It is a typical, normal experience, right?
You sign a lease.
You pay your rent on time.
You take good care of the inside of the house, providing the furnishings.
You pick up the sticks and papers in the yard.
You pull weeds, mulch and plant flowers.
You don’t put the garbage out until after 6 PM.
You get along great with your housemate and the neighbors.
Everything’s great, right?
In Aaron’s case, he follows all the above, and has lived there for over 9 years.
In addition, since we figured he’d be living there the rest of his life (possibly 60 years) Aaron paid $1000 to build a patio on the back of the house.
Aaron got a HUD rent subsidy so he would only need one other housemate to help pay the rent. With his family, he even showed the owners of the house (a non-profit) how to get HUD approval.
Perfect tenant, right?
But, things are not perfect.
Because of his severe disabilities Aaron and his housemate need 24/7 support staff.
The company that manages the support staff has organizational, financial, and other issues (not unlike most residential companies).
So, though we love and trust Annie, our terrific head staff person, the company can’t ever seem to get additional staff to help–especially on the weekends.
The company continually blames Aaron saying his autism and intellectual disabilities are more difficult than other “clients,” so no staff want to work with him.
So we are stuck.
The county also says all the people who live in a house have to have the same residential provider.
So Aaron, Jack (his housemate/guardians) have to agree before we could change providers.
The county also tells us all the providers have the same issues, so it wouldn’t really make much difference.
So we suck it up, but NOT quietly
With tremendous effort and lots of positive thinking, we keep working to make things better, and fall into an okay routine.
The Plot Thickens
What would you think if one day your landlord calls and says, you have a vacant bedroom in the house and there is a homeless person with severe disabilties who needs a place to live?
Further, the county is short on money and passed a regulation saying all empty bedrooms will be filled.
And oh, since you don’t own the house–tough shit!
Oh, and by the way, the residential company you endure will now be in charge of three people. So if you want to change companies you will need not two–but all three people/guardians to agree before you can change.
They do promise additional quality staff for a couple hours in the morning and evening to help get everyone dressed, bathed, toileted, fed, and groomed. But we have been with this company for over 9 years and know they often make promises they can’t keep.
Again, these are not evil people, they just don’t have the support system THEY need.
The Perfect Storm
If this was a Stephen King novel, at this point in the story there would have to be some unforseen twists to really make things interesting.
Since, being a person with a severe disability isn’t drama enough, sure enough The Perfect Storm overturns the barely floating status-quo boat.
1. We still have trouble finding adequate staff.
2. Jack, Aaron’s housemate, “falls,” breaks his leg and is now using a walker (with great difficulty).
3. The replacement staff are “trained” by the supervisor over the phone. (Yep, couldn’t make this up.)
4. Aaron’s behaviors are increasing and when switching to new medications, the new staff (trained over the phone) accidently gives an overdose of Zoloft.
5. The county, like all government agencies, is desperate for funds.
6. The visit for the NEW housemate is set up for Tuesday night. Like it or not. (another post)
7. Make up a couple more dramas and they are probably true.
Since the county and the residential provider both profess they follow the principles of normalization, inclusion, self-determination and John McGee’s Gentle Teaching…. let’s start there.
A normal person rents a house or apartment:
Unless they violate the terms of the lease, the landlord doesn’t care what you do with the rooms in the house. In fact, they would only care if you brought in an extra person.
A person with a disability rents a house or apartment:
The landlord can demand you put a perfect stranger, with severe disabilities, in one of the rooms.
Even if you say, “These houses aren’t private”– can you imagine going to any other group of people in HUD owned homes, people in the projects, people who are poor, elderly, unemployed, needy and telling them they HAD to add a stranger to their household?
Hey, most people don’t even want to have relatives and people they know move in. Strangers, I don’t think so.
The house is in a residential neighborhood of single family homes. The houses is small and not zoned for a group home.
Adding one or two more housemates will mean there are twice as many cars, twice the number of staff, twice the number of pick up and deliveries.
One of the reasons the neighbors have been so nice, is they got to know Aaron and Jack. Our efforts to blend into the neighborhood and keep the house looking good has brought a level of acceptance. There is a delicate balance for inclusion in the neighborhood.
It seems when there are budget cuts–self-determination and individual choices are scratched off the books.
There is no way adding a new housemate is in Aaron’s best interests.
Aaron and Jack have had a terrible time getting quality staff, period.
Few will take them into the community. As Aaron’s behaviors have deteriorated in the last year and he is on more medication, there is less incentive to take him even for walks in the neighborhood, as well as into neighborhood stores…. Aaron is already isolated. Adding a third housemate will make this even more difficult.
Dang, let’s not even go there.
This isn’t all a surprise. In 2009, my husband and I challenged the county board’s authority to do this. Earlier this year, we were alerted this might be happening. See above related posts.
I keep hoping there is some sort of HUD requirement saying the government can’t just bring strangers to live in your house. (There is that constitutional protection against the government forcing people to house soldiers.)
I keep hoping some sort of civil rights, or just human compassion will prevail.
I keep hoping the fact that there have been two MUIs in the house in the last couple months (broken foot and overdose) will give people a clue that the house is in crisis.
I keep hoping the history of lack of adequate staff will also tell people that poorly paid and trained staff taking care of two men who need total care is a difficult job. Adding a third person is ridiculous.
I keep hoping that SOMEONE will notice the company in charge is filling for bankruptcy–duh! Do we really think it is safe to put MORE people in their charge?
We are using every avenue to fight this forced placement.
We are also trying to get the county to think outside the traditional funding box.
For years, we have heard about micro-boards, foster care, private providers, HUD houses, community initiatives, pairing people with disabilities with people who are poor, displaced, out of work….
Where are the creative thinkers who used to work with us? Where are the professionals who are being paid to problem-solve? Where are my friends who I trusted and gave years of volunteer time?
God knows I cry for the poor man who needs a home. If we weren’t in such turmoil, I’d personally offer to help him.
God knows I also hear from my relatives and neighbors that the government is too big and needs to be cut.
God knows I even hear some people tell me, “You created this defective child, it is your responsibility to take care of him.”
Anyone have any ACES up their sleeves? Any trump or wild cards? Hey, I’ll even consider some creative card tricks *wink wink*.
Thanks to everyone who has sent such kind notes of encouragement. We will survive. Aaron will survive.
But, geez louise… I figured out the Medicaid Waiver, I figured out the HUD rent subsidy and now people all over the area are using those supports. I’m exhausted.
We’ve taken Aaron home with us 15 of the last 30 days because of the turmoil in the house…And that was before the notice this week of the new housemate. Share your thoughts.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best, Mary