Semiahmoo House Society, (SHS) has identified and addressed the need for support for socially responsible housing for persons with disabilities (PWD). SHS has worked for over a decade to build an inclusive apartment building, where a true representation of community is provided affordable homes. This apartment building, Chorus, has 71 units, 20 of which are for PWD. These 20 units are throughout the building promoting inclusion and natural friendships to blossom. All of the PWD living there do so independently. They do not have live-in staff. Instead, there is 24 hour support as needed. This allows the PWD to be as independent as possible knowing that there is someone available if needed to modify or support a task.
Having the opportunity to learn and grow is critical to everyone, and living at Chorus it can be seen in leaps and bounds. As an example, there is a young person living at Chorus who upon moving in experienced an overabundance of support from his family. This young person, with the help of the staff at Chorus, was able to help this young person gain the autonomy that they had craved. They did this by working together to show how the person could be independent and safe at the same time. The young person is able to ask for help when they need it as opposed to, like so many families and supports out there, being continually offered support. The latter does not inspire independence and can lead to a stifling of one’s life in all areas. Knowing that you can live on your own successfully has instilled a sense of ability to all areas of this person’s life as seen by their friends and advocacy group. Choice to decide and either succeed or learn from is a right that we are all entitled to. Learning from what didn’t work is often something that is not presented to PWD in real life situations.
There are several PWD who have very active social lives, living at Chorus. With minimal support of the staff, these PWD are able to balance their schedules without missing meals, appointments and get to their activities without feeling overwhelmed or incapable of having it all. This support looks like, preparation of fridge calendars, texting reminders, meal prep and support in making phone calls, to name a few. Again, it is important to acknowledge that independent living is not a black or white area. There are varying ways to support a person to be independent and have a full life.
The comradery that can be seen by the friends, all living at Chorus and with PWD, can be seen in many ways. For the first time, many of them in their late 20’s and older, they are hosting their own Christmas and New Year’s Parties. This holds a lot of pride for them, their families, SHS. A rite of passage that many people take for granted is now available to the PWD living at Chorus. The relationships of the PWD living at Chorus have deepened as their roles for each other are changing. They support each other in casual but critical and meaningful ways like trips to the grocery store and navigating bus lines. PWD living at Chorus are leading by example. They started with independence with support through Chorus staff and are now showing their peers independence with support through these small but important gestures. This care and assistance will not stop with the people living with Chorus. PWD living there take these gestures to their work, their communities and their friends and family.
Chorus has been tagged as a flagship model for other organizations and builders across North America. This model will provide opportunities for countless others as more inclusive buildings are built. PWD living in Chorus and PWD living in the community can feel confident that more housing options like this are their right, as SHS is proving it to be a success.
By Alexander Magnussen
Chair of Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo and Board Member of SHS