LIGHTS: A Light in Your Community
In November 2014, 110 families have joined LIGHTS on their journey towards independence. More than 24 young men and women with intellectual disabilities have completed the process, and are living independently with LIGHTS support.
Alex is one of them. He moved into his own home last summer. In his 30's; loves music, dancing, and bowling; plays the guitar; rides horses; and works four days a week in two Coffee Sheds, one at Surrey Place Centre and one at George Brown College.
When he opens the door of his apartment to me, his beaming smile lights up the hallway. He invites me in, takes my coat, introduces me to his brother Jamie, and then, with great pride, shows me his new home—the kitchen, the living room, and the amazing view from his bedroom. (He lives on one of the top floors in his building.)
Alex is a thoroughly engaging young man and host. With occasional support from his brother, Alex explains that their mother died four years ago. His father has serious health problems, and his sister and brother have both moved out of the family home. Now it was his turn to set out on his own.
The prospect frightened Alex. He needed time to prepare, and he needed money. But as 2013 rolled around, Alex had made up his mind. He wanted to find a job he liked, which he has since done, and he wanted to move into his own place.
By then his family had heard about LIGHTS. With support from Community Living Toronto, they began to work on a plan and a budget. His dad worried about all of it, but Alex’s brother and sister were confident in the plan and completely supportive. Laura, our LIGHTS facilitator, helped Alex and his family finalize their personal plan and budget. Alex was ready to go! As soon as the apartment Alex lives in became available, his sister Mariam took him to see it. Alex walked through the door, and—well, we can’t print what he next told me. But, he says, “My eyes were as big as saucers!”
I ask him why he wanted to live on his own. He answers that he wanted more independence, and to be his own person. His brother and sister had moved out, and he wanted to develop his own friendships. The plan was for Alex to spend two days a week in his new home at first, then four, and finally five days a week, going to his dad’s every weekend. Alex moved in last summer. He hasn’t felt the need to spend a night at his dad’s ever since! He loves his new home and his independence.
What about cooking, and food, I ask. Alex has his answer all ready: he does his own cooking (by remembering his mum’s great techniques and recipes), connecting to Jamie on Facetime if he has a problem. An agency caseworker helps him with meal planning, and he does most of his own food shopping, too.
When he isn’t out dancing or bowling or taking guitar lessons—the man has an active social life!—Alex has dinner a few nights a week with friends who live in his building. Many of his friends still live with their parents.
Now Alex wants to teach these friends the skills he has learned so that they can live on their own, with LIGHTS and family support, as Alex does.
“What do you think those skills are?” I ask Alex.
He has a ready answer, as usual. “A location to live, use of the TTC, math skills, cooking skills, and being comfortable living on your own.” Alex has it figured out. Would he consider speaking at a LIGHTS workshop for other families considering this journey? Again, his answer is instantaneous. “I would be honoured to speak to other families about me!”
It has been an honour to spend the evening with Alex in his place, in the home he calls his own, and treats as his own. When I ask him what his favourite song is, and if he can play it on his guitar, he strums through High and Dry, by Gordon Lightfoot, with Lightfoot accompaniment in the background. A perfect ending to a magical evening!
Before I can leave, however, Alex has a question of his own for me and Jamie. Can he stay in his home after five years are up? (LIGHTS hopes that, over a five year stretch, families will be able to find alternate funding going forward, so that new families can be supported.) Jamie has seen the enormous changes in Alex, and he reassures his brother that he will find a way.
“I have the answer”, Alex replies. “I will work hard and save all my money!” And with his huge grin, he thanks me for coming and says good-bye.
Alex’s family’s approach to the future is similar to that of most of our LIGHTS families. They are very concerned about the five year financial limit for LIGHTS funding, but they live with hope. That hope, and the engagement of the entire family in the planning process, is the main reason, in our experience, that a family succeeds.
Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance in their community. Living in your own home; choosing where and with whom you live, and forming social relationships are fundamental to being part of society.
For people with an intellectual disability and their families, this is no different. LIGHTS is an option for families to explore who are interested in helping their family member start a life outside the family home.
LIGHTS is a unique program which has been created by community leaders in partnership with Community Living Toronto to address the very significant shortage of independent and appropriate housing for intellectually disabled citizens in Toronto. Its goal is to enable new housing opportunities to flourish for the intellectually disabled, and to share its blueprint for success with other communities across the country.