Several years ago Chris Beesley wrote a BLOOM piece about how raising his son Mitchell, who has Fragile X and autism, had changed his life and career aspirations.
I met Chris last week in his new role as CEO of Community Living Ontario. I wanted to talk about options for housing for adults with intellectual disabilities.
Next week 100 of Community Living’s executive directors are coming to Toronto to brainstorm ideas that move beyond the traditional group home. The group will hear updates from an Ontario Developmental Services Capacity-Building Task Force on Housing, the federal program My House, My Choice, and a partnership between the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services and MaRS research hub, which issued a challenge brief to develop creative housing solutions for people with developmental disabilities.
Earlier this year an interim report from the Select Committee on Developmental Services noted there were 12,000 Ontario adults on a list for group homes with a wait of 20 years. TWENTY years.
So with my son now 20—as is Chris’s son—I wanted to hear about possibilities for change.
BLOOM: What is Community Living Ontario?
Chris Beesley: We support individuals and families in creating full citizenship for people with developmental disabilities. That means living where and with whom they want to live, inclusive education, work—either paid or volunteer—and recreational and social connections. Everyone needs to have friends.
BLOOM: Can you update us on new provincial funding for developmental services as a whole?
Chris Beesley: In the provincial budget $810 million dollars over the next three years was put into developmental services. The Ministry of Community and Social Services currently has a budget of about $1.7 billion. When this is rolled out in its entirety, it will bring the ministry's budget to a little over $2 billion per year. The net result is that there will be an extra $372 million annually in the system.
BLOOM: It sounds like a lot of money, but given the needs, it isn’t.
Chris Beesley: The money will be used to eliminate the wait list for Special Services at Home and Passport funding, and to cover new people coming into the system. They’ve also committed to 1,400 residential spaces.
BLOOM: But if 12,000 people are on a wait list, 1,400 spaces is just scratching the surface. What kind of residential spaces?
Chris Beesley: Some will be group homes, some will be individuals living with a family, like a foster situation, and some will be supported independent living. Our goal is to see government support individuals in their residence of choice in a flexible way. Eventually, we’d like to see residential dollars flow through Passport funding. Passport is individualized funding, but it’s currently capped at $25,000 and can only be used in the community, not for overnight support. Right now there are individuals who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for residential support a year, but it flows through agencies. We’d like the option, where appropriate, to unbundle that from the agency and give it to the individual, so the individual is in control of where they live and who supports them.
BLOOM: What’s an example of out-of-the-box thinking?
Chris Beesley: Twenty five years ago 10 families came together to create an intentional community in Pickering. They accessed federal and provincial funding to construct a housing co-op with 115 units, seven of which would be occupied by their sons and daughters. They pooled the support funding their children received.
BLOOM: How has it worked out?
Chris Beesley: It’s worked very well. But the parents have had to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Those parents are now in their 70s and wondering how they’re going to keep this up. We’d like to see better coordination and planning across government ministries, municipalities and agencies, so parents aren’t the ones trying to make all the connections.
BLOOM: What are you discussing at your housing conference?
Chris Beesley: We want to hear from our executive directors about what they’ve done, or seen, in their communities, that’s promising. What’s working, what isn’t, what are the barriers and the opportunities? We want to get a lay of the land so we can look at moving beyond group homes. We want to identify practices and models that the government may want to invest in.
BLOOM: Is there anything new you can share with us?
Chris Beesley: I just learned about how Community Living London has been successful in finding investors who want to buy houses, so that the agency’s money doesn’t get locked up in the bricks and mortar. They have 30 homes and 21 of them are owned by investors.
BLOOM: Do these investors have a connection to disability?
Chris Beesley: No, not necessarily. They’re people who want to buy a house as an investment and they want a reliable tenant who won’t skip out, and we’re able to provide reliable tenants. Community Living London has become known as a facilitator for matching great tenants and investors.
BLOOM: How can parents learn about what comes out of your conference?
Chris Beesley: Once we’ve had the event we’ll write a report that we’ll post on our website There's good stuff going on, but our challenge is to create the space for this conversation and to bring all of the parties together.
BLOOM: What ideas are you thinking about in terms of Mitchell moving out?
Chris Beesley: We’ve thought about selling our house and buying two townhouses, so we're close: one for Mitchell and one for my wife Lori and I. Maybe we'll move near a college or university so we can find a student who can live with Mitchell for cheap rent, and in return would agree to be there every night and morning. Of course we'll need be part of the support, but this is a model that works for others so it's definitely something we'll explore.