By REBECA KUROPATWA When one considers the sheer numbers of intellectually disabled people in the general population – estimated at about three percent – it is not hard to see what a monumental challenge it is to find a place for each one of these individuals. This is hard enough on its own, but even more so when seeking a place that will preserve one’s Jewish identity.

Unfortunately, this challenge falls largely on the shoulders of parents of the individuals in need.
While Winnipeg is one of the more fortunate places that offers homes and support to adults with intellectual disabilities in the community - Shalom Residences – the demand is much greater then can currently be accommodated.
Parents need to apply for government subsidy and support as soon as the children are diagnosed with a disability, as service at Shalom Residences is funded by the Manitoba Provincial Government’s Department of Family Services.
“The percentage for general estimates hasn’t changed,” said Nancy Hughes, executive director of Shalom Residences, an organization that provides homes and support to adults with intellectual disabilities in Winnipeg. “But, it is possible that there are more people being identified on the autism/asperger’s spectrum, so it may be higher than it used to be.”
Shalom Residences only serves 33 people, with some living in group living and others residing independently in their own apartments, as well as three others who have received funding approval and are waiting for proper accommodation.
Before Shalom Residences opened their first home in 1980, Jewish people with intellectual disabilities lived with their families, in an institution, or within other organizations.
Manitoba is one of the last provinces that still operates an institution, The Manitoba Developmental Center in Portage la Prairie, and, in Hughes’ view, “Manitoba is behind.”
“From about 1970 forward, there’s been much more of a focus on people living in their home community and being included in regular community, as opposed to living in congregated, segregated settings.
“The province’s Family Services covers the funding that we receive for providing the housing, staffing, food, and so on. So, [an individual/family’s] financial standing doesn’t affect whether they get services.”
Once the province decides to provide funding to an individual - the funding it has built into its budget, Hughes said there has never been a problem with them continuing funding once they have initially agreed.
“There’s been an increase in funding for people with disabilities over the past 10 to15 years, but the need is still great,” said Hughes. “There’s still a lot of waiting.”
To save on public funds, the province works with each family to minimize the support they need and typically only places individuals in homes when the situation becomes urgent.
“Supported Independent Living [SIL] is something new for people who are independent enough to live in an apartment by themselves without 24-hour staffing,” said Hughes. “We support eight people in our apartment-living program. That works well for those people and, over the years, that’s freed up some spots in the residences for people who need the 24-hour support.
“We help people make sure they are registered with community living and that they make their best case to the government about why their loved one needs to be funded. So, we have helped people lobby to get funding.”
For anyone seeking a place for their loved one, Hughes stresses the importance of continually lobbing and keeping in touch with the front line community service worker.
There are about 100 organizations in the province that provide services to adults with intellectual disabilities. Some of these are residential homes, others are day programs, or supported employment, and then there are some organizations that offer both.
One of the day programs is Gaining Resources Our Way (GROW), founded by Karyn Lazareck. Although is in not Jewish-specific, Jewish values exist throughout the organization.
“We facilitate teaching individual’s life skills for living in the community,” said Sandy Sheegl, GROW’s program director. “Our focus is mainly to be teaching life skills for those who want to participate more actively in the community and, to some degree, have the capacity to do so.
“The program is very goal-focused, very teaching-based. Participants and their families pick goals to work towards, like learning to make grilled cheese, getting yourself up and ready in the morning, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and meal planning.
“We have three individuals independent in the community. When I say that, they are living in their own places, not in group homes. But, they do have some community support around them.”
They meet with staff twice a week and go over budgeting. “We have systems set up where they enter what they are spending and keep on budget, meal planning for the week, grocery shopping...They review their schedules, what they need when they get somewhere.”
Sheegl understands first-hand the frustration parents feel and the difficulties they face, as she is the mother of a 24-year-old son with autism who still lives at home. “Every individual is different,” said Sheegl. “Capabilities on the onset of a diagnosis certainly impact the outcomes.
“Capability is one thing, motivation is another and family support is another. It encompasses all those things. These are key things that can promote an individual towards independence and success.”
Families need to contact their case workers early on and ensure they know what they want for their son or daughter. “There are lots of cases where individuals who are 30, 40, or 50 are still living with family,” said Sheegl. “And then people end up in crisis, which is not the best case scenario.
“Maybe the Jewish community does need to get more involved in supporting a specific campaign where some real deficits exist for people in Jewish families in terms of housing.”