Center for Independent Futures (CIF) is an Evanston, Illinois, not-for-profit organization dedicated to a vision of the future where individuals with disabilities have access to all opportunities of a full life. Having a place to call home is a critical component of this vision. At a time when government housing is at capacity and funding is scarce, it is difficult to find appropriate, affordable housing for individuals with disabilities.
CIF’s New Futures Initiative™ guides families on the paths toward housing solutions. Two Coleman Foundation grants enabled CIF to expand and modify its tools and resources, refine its training and consultation approach, provide more families access to its process, and engage Community Partners and other stakeholders in creating new solutions.
Seven family groups seeking housing solutions for their loved ones were established in the city of Chicago and suburbs. Each group participated in training workshops, completed tasks between workshops, and consulted with CIF trainers. Additional activities included:
- Designing a half-day training model
- Refining the Trainee Manual
- Creating five videos highlighting key aspects of community building
- Creating a video on building a housing team and two videos on support philosophies
- Providing Spanish translation of all videos
Train the Trainer workshops were designed and conducted to give family group leaders and selected agency staff the skills and tools needed to provide ongoing leadership and support to families working toward their goals. A key objective of the project was to expose a variety of stakeholders to CIF’s alternative housing solutions and process and to engage Community Partners in the initiative. Activities in this area included creating a Community Partner Packet to encourage participation and gathering individuals, families, service providers, housing partners, and other community leaders for education, discussion, and cross-sector collaboration.
Each of the 44 parents and three community support partners who completed the training gained new knowledge and skills. Family groups engaged in conversation with more potential Community Partners for support services and housing. All the family groups reached several milestones in their work together:
- Articulated individual visions, goals, and core values
- Aligned on a group vision, goals, and core values
- Created a group decision-making process
- Created and agreed upon a housing vision and criteria
- Determined their housing structure and ownership model
- Researched available housing stock and viewed properties that met their criteria
- Created development and operating budgets for properties under consideration
- Created and agreed upon a support vision and criteria
- Interviewed service providers around their criteria
- Developed a support model and selected a potential service provider
- Developed a project implementation plan
Family groups are currently in the process of refining and implementing the plans that they developed together.
Alternative Housing Options for Individuals with Disabilities: A Guide to Forming and Implementing Community Partnerships (spanish-language version) was developed. This free resource makes a portion of the content from CIF’s New Futures Initiative™ training available to families who want to move forward with this process on their own. Four hundred copies, in English and Spanish, were printed and disseminated, and PDFs were made available on our website.
CIF presented at seven community organizations, advocacy groups, family groups, and service providers. Ten new potential housing and support partners were engaged in the project, and 100 people attended a one-day symposium. These activities fostered opportunities to share ideas and build relationships between individuals, families, and professionals who can provide leadership in creating alternative, community-based housing options for individuals with disabilities.
Lesson Learned: For family groups to be successful in the long run, they need early opportunities to lead the process, make decisions, build relationships and interdependence, and work together. The training and consultation format allowed families to establish their own processes, run their own meetings, and rely on each other. Their commitment to the project solidifies while the group establishes its own identity.
Lesson Learned: The largest stumbling block in the process is figuring out the support funding and provider for individuals with disabilities. The cost of support is the largest expense. Over twenty thousand individuals in Illinois are on a waiting list for funding, and for those who receive funds, the support is often inflexible and insufficient. Many families are not eligible for any government funds, and they cannot cover support costs on their own. To create the solutions they and their loved ones deserve, families need to come together to share assets and resources.
Lesson Learned: To address the uncertain, unsettling climate in Illinois with severe budget cuts, stakeholders need opportunities to connect with each other to advocate for flexible funding and new alternatives. The need for affordable, supported, community-based housing options for individuals with disabilities is great, and current funding streams are inadequate. The situation will only worsen as aging caregivers become incapable of providing family homes for their loved ones and the number of individuals with disabilities increases with the rise in diagnosis of individuals on the Autism spectrum. We must work on all fronts to bring individuals, families, public and private funders, service providers, and government officials together to collaborate and find effective ways to meet these challenges.