Anna, an ambitious 27-year-old who uses a wheelchair, is an active member of her Davis community. She designs and sells buttons and magnets with her business partner, Jackson, and volunteers at Kaiser and local schools, demonstrating her Vanguard speaking device. For fun, she works out at Davis Athletic Club and attends concerts and the Farmers' Market.
Anna's mom, Bonnie, is ecstatic to see her daughter thriving on her own. She says it wouldn't have happened without the support of Creative Living Options, one of the many Sacramento housing agencies that serve adults with special needs.
"When I talk about CLO, the word 'individual' keeps coming up," Bonnie says. "The focus is on Anna as an individual. Anna's orientation to life in her community is very confident. She knows that she belongs. She wants to contribute."
Suzanna, Ashley, Danzai, Jennifer, Tina and Saeeda comprise the 24-hour support team who enables Anna to live in her own apartment as independently as possible. They shop, clean, prepare meals and help her maintain a social life. This free support is available to Anna for life.
Jonathan Thomas, a 25-year-old with ADD, lives independently, happily attending school and cooking and cleaning in the San Leandro apartment he shares with a roommate. It's a far cry from his previous residence—a crowded boarding home in Oakland for the severely disabled. Jonathan's life changed the day his grandmother contacted East Bay Innovations, one of the many Bay Area housing organizations that serve adults with special needs.
"Rafael helped me find this place in December," Jonathan says. "He taught me how to shop for food, cook, sign up for school, buy tools and fill out paperwork. He has helped me a lot."
Twice a week Rafael, an Independent Living Instructor, provided Jonathan with critical hands-on training, giving him the confidence needed to make it on his own. They still remain in regular contact.
There may come a day when you and your loved one with special needs consider a similar independent living scenario. If and when the time is right, you'll find an abundance of organizations that support and guide you through the process. These organizations assist in determining the best living situation for your adult child with special needs. They also offer a wealth of services to ensure safe and successful integration into communities your child can call their own.
So, where do you start? Most housing programs require a referral from your area's Regional Center, a state-funded, non-profit organization that serves adults with developmental disabilities and their families. A case manager will help create a personalized plan; then, you'll be referred to a housing program for placement.
"Our mission is to assist individuals with disabilities to live independent lives and be productive members of a community," says Tammy Ratto, Director of Independent Living Services at East Bay Innovations.
Programs like Housing Now in Sacramento, Housing Choices Coalition in San Jose and West Bay Housing in San Francisco help families find and secure affordable housing, seeking out residential complexes with designated units for people with disabilities. The programs provide invaluable help for families: applying for Section 8, finding living accommodations while you're on the wait list, and solving financial needs.
"Not only do we find housing for our clients, we teach them the essential skills they need to live independently," Tammy says. These skills can include grocery shopping, cooking, budgeting, safety and self-advocacy. As individuals acquire the know-how, training is scaled back, but 24-hour services are available as needed.
"CLO embraces the philosophy that every person with a disability has the right to an individualized lifestyle," says Joan Schmidt, CEO. "Not only can we locate housing but we provide all the support necessary so individuals can fully participate in community life as they desire."
Above and beyond the support and laws that protect, many service providers are visibly passionate about their work and love to see your child's accomplishments—Joan confirms that her colleagues are filled with tenacity and compassion.
When you're ready, reach out and trust that your Regional Center (and helpful housing organizations) will guide you and yours through this huge milestone: independence.
Golden Gate Regional Center
Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties
North Bay Regional Center
Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties
Regional Center of the East Bay
Alameda and Contra Costa counties
San Andreas Regional Center
Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties
Alta California Regional Center
Alpine, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.
Or, search for "regional center" online to find a directory.