Time for son’s new life

NEXT month, three young men with disabilities will move into a unique public housing development in Phillip with 22 other tenants, where they are expected to build an “intentional community” together.

Sally Richards-0602

Getting a Life founder Sally Richards… “It just seemed like a really good idea to me – that you create a community around the people with a disability.” Photo by Silas Brown

Housing ACT may have built the cluster of units in Alsop Close, but it only came about through the tenacious efforts of three mothers, whose grown-up sons with disabilities can now live in their own homes and stay connected to the wider community, with the support they need.

Sally Richards formed the family-governed group Getting a Life in 2005 with Karen Connaughton and Cheryl Pattrick.

Supported by Hartley LifeCare, they have spent eight years working towards the intentional community, which is modelled on one in Canada where 10 people with disabilities and 95 other public housing clients live together.

“It just seemed like a really good idea to me – that you create a community around the people with a disability,” Sally says.

“People were invited to apply to live in a community that has as its premise being neighbourly, being friendly, being welcoming, being warm. You know, contributing, giving and taking.”

Sally first started working on the project 11 years ago, when her son Jackson West was 16 years old. He’s now a 27-year-old man who works as a courier in the small business Sally set up for him, Jackmail.

Ben Connaughton also works as a courier, part-time at Canberra Hospital, and Daniel Pattrick works in several jobs.

All three are grown men who require a significant amount of support every day, which their families can’t continue to provide indefinitely.

“I think that if we hadn’t done this, or something similar, there is no chance that Jackson would have lived independently in his own house,” says Sally, explaining he had been waiting for public housing since 2003.

There are few options for young people with disabilities who can no longer live with their families; many parents go through the distress of relinquishing their adult children to inappropriate housing such as aged care homes, after the burden of caring for them becomes too much.

Members of the “neighbourly” intentional community are expected to help each other out, while formal disability support will come through a co-residential model. Jackson and Ben will live with salaried carers who also get rent-free accommodation, while the housemate of the more independent Daniel will just receive a rent discount.

“There’s an expectation that people who live here will make that effort to get to know their neighbours,” Sally says. Shared projects such as community gardening will be encouraged to help build a friendly atmosphere among the tenants.

After 11 years of hard work spanning four different disability ministers and delay after delay in the construction timetable, Sally finds it hard to believe the move-in day is really coming up on April 3.

“It’s time, I think. Time for him to have a new life, time for me to have a new life. So I think it’s going to be great.”

More about the Getting a Life Intentional Community on Sally Richards’ blog at gettingalife.com.au.

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