When Attorney Michele Smith of Johnson Johnson Larson & Schaller PC was looking to help her autistic son achieve adult independence after high school, she was disappointed to find that no suitable, sustainable housing options for adults with developmental disabilities existed in her community. She turned this disappointment into a non-profit organization that transformed into Supporting Access to Independent Living (SAIL) Housing.
Nationwide, nearly 60% of all adults with developmental disabilities continue to live with a family member throughout their adulthood. Many could successfully live independently, but do not get an opportunity to learn due to a lack of affordable housing that also provides a supportive learning environment. Without meaningful opportunity, many of these adults become increasingly dependent on family, and then can face overwhelming challenges when their aging family member is no longer able to house or care for them.
SAIL Housing’s mission is “to advocate for and promote sustainable housing for persons with developmental disabilities in a life enriching environment that fosters dignity and independence.”
Ms. Smith has volunteered more than 500 hours annually to this cause because she believes, “Meaningful participation, creative collaboration, and giving back are important for a community to thrive, and a thriving and interactive community benefits everyone.”
In January 2012, SAIL Housing opened Willakenzie Crossing in Eugene, Oregon, in partnership with Metropolitan Affordable Housing Corp. Willakenzie Crossing is a new affordable housing complex with 16 apartments reserved for residents with developmental disabilities. SAIL Housing has developed and maintains a collaborative and supportive community that involves residents, families, personal service providers, and agency case management. SAIL Housing also coordinates skills classes, activities, and events designed to promote self-determination and independence in living.
“We are witnessing individual successes at Willakenzie Crossing that go well beyond expectations in the areas of independent living, education, work, and resident participation in the community. These are capable and wonderful adults who want nothing more than to continue to learn, and succeed in living enriched and independent lives. They are motivated and working very hard,” says Ms. Smith. “I firmly believe it is incumbent on every person to find some meaningful way to help their community, however small or large.”