As the earth shifts on its axis and Canada tilts away from the warmth of the sun, birds and beasts pause, and drawn by innate yearnings to move, begin migrations that their species have traveled for millennia to warmth and comfort. In much the same manner, we Canadians are magnetically drawn home for the holidays. Home. A place of belonging. A place we can call our own. The scent of cinnamon and cloves and pine needles and the sound of good cheer surrounding the family and friends we invite to share the warmth of our fire and the food of our feasts. We decorate and share our homes and create traditions that will be carried on by our children and newcomer friends.
For people who have developmental disabilities, home has historically not been a place to choose, but a place to be placed. Not so long ago, large scale institutions were considered the best “homes” for children who were born with disabilities. Today in Canada, over 100,000 Canadian with developmental disabilities are not able to find affordable housing where they can live safe and happy lives of their own choosing in communities that offer social and economic inclusion. Housing options are mostly limited to staying at home through adulthood with one’s aging parents or living with another family in a home share situation. While both these situations work very well for some, for others and their families the limited choice is a classic dilemma: two housing options, neither which is acceptable or preferred. Unlike most Canadians, people with disabilities rarely have a place that they can call their own, where they can decorate, invite family and friends, and create their own traditions.
The good news is that society is shifting the way it views people who have disabilities. There is a tilt in the axis of our collective beliefs and assumptions about who should and can have a home of their own. I’ve seen this during Semiahmoo House Society’s tiring but wonderful 13 year journey developing and building Chorus, an inclusive and affordable apartment that over 100 people call home, including 21 people who have developmental disabilities. We started the journey by asking people we support and their families how and where they would like to live. Not surprisingly, we were told “in our community, close to our friends, family, transit, and jobs; and, if possible, in our own apartment.” These dreams became our marching orders and through the work of many dedicated people and like-minded organizations, Chorus exists today.
I got to thinking about all of this because yesterday Michaela and Krista, roommates in Chorus, sent me this picture with the caption: “Our first Christmas Tree in our new home.”
The picture was taken by their friend Alexa, who was visiting them from Kelowna, staying with them for a few days and enjoying their hospitality. Krista and Michaela will welcome other friends and family members to their home over the holidays. They have the opportunity to be hosts, to share their space, their meals, and their good cheer with others. In the same way that Chorus puts people with disabilities in a position of strength by its very being and its welcome to other members of the community who need decent affordable homes, Krista and Michaela now have the right and opportunity to give back and share their bounty with others. This is the way it should be: reciprocal relationships where all people have a chance to give and to receive.
Like the inexorable movement of the seasons, we move forward as a people, unstoppable in our journey to true inclusion. I am proud of the work that Semiahmoo House Society has done to make our community stronger and I am truly blessed to be in the company of people who will continue to move us towards a world where all people are valued.
By Doug Tennant, Executive Director, Semiahmoo House Society
Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation, located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.