High-Risk Housing — When there is no good option

We accept that the risk is better than homelessness or institutionalization…and that is all we really need to know.

When people think of someone with an intellectual or developmental disability they often picture an individual with Down Syndrome. These are the “poster children” for our services as their visible disability helps to publicly define the kind of work we do. Yet, out of the 500 people we work with at Sample Supports, most of the disabilities do not fit the poster child mold.

Some of the people we serve are far more challenging than the rest. These are the HARD clients. I’m talking about the REAAAAALLLLY hard clients. The ones where 80% of our team resources go. Ironically, they are usually the ones that have a non-visible disability.

There is a group of about 100 people in our services that fall on the cusp of services. Their IQs are low enough where they qualify for services, but high enough where they are resourceful enough to be pseudo-independent. These individuals have brain damage — from birth defects, abuse, or chronic neglect. Some have fetal alcohol syndrome and some have natural mild mental impairments. They have poor impulse control and poor judgment as part of their disability and make decisions that reflect that. These are also the same people that are the most exploited. Their lack of a visible disability is actually what can make them the most challenging to serve.

So what happens when these individuals want to live independently in their own apartment?

We say “ok”.

Welcome to High-Risk Housing.

Over the last 7 years we have developed a complex housing program for some of our most high-risk individuals. For most, this is their very first time living alone. For almost all, this is their only alternative to being homeless.

Wait! That seems counter-intuitive! The MOST difficult should need MORE supervision, not less, right?

Let me break it down: You take someone that has lived in foster care for 8 years after being neglected and abused for the first decade of their life. They have an IQ of 70 and years of unstable placements and institutional care. As a result, they have reactive attachment disorder and they use drugs to self-medicate. They hate authority and structure and they are not afraid to show it. They don’t want to work or leave their apartment. They threaten their providers with baseball bats every time they set a rule.

The options for this person are one of a few things: 1. They can be homeless. 2. They can live with a host home provider or in a group home, to which they will inevitably be kicked out or run away. 3. They can be placed in an IDD institution where they live in cement block rooms. 4. They end up in prison where they will be continually exploited and abused due to their low IQ.

Well, none of those options work for us. Thus, we provide another option: To live independently and accept all that comes with it.

High-Risk Housing — When there is no good option.

Here is the person-centered truth: People can make bad choices and still have the right to live independently.

Don’t we all know adults without disabilities that make rotten choices? They find abusive relationships, use drugs, exploit themselves and make poor friend choices. In essence, they make poor life choices all around. Yet, we don’t go to their parents and say they can’t live alone, do we?

In our high-risk housing program we have essentially come to terms with the fact that we are offering independent living options to some of the most challenging and vulnerable people in the system. We know it is a risk. We know it is going to be hard. We are signing up for hard.

We accept that the risk is better than homelessness or institutionalization…and that is all we really need to know.

How can a program like this be successful in a fully occupied rental market? It sounds impossible, right?

It is possible. At Sample Supports we have a 96% success rate of supporting high-risk individuals to remain in stable, long-term independent housing.

In a world where stable transitional housing outcomes average less than 50% for the high-risk population, 96% speaks for itself.

Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how we do it soon enough. Stay tuned….

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